It was a somber finale here at the haute couture shows in Paris. As I was recovering from four days of fabulous fashion and fetes, word came from Morristown, New Jersey, that Eileen Ford, the founder of Ford models, had passed away at the age of 92. To say that Ms. Ford, with her husband Jerry, changed the face of fashion is an understatement. Their modeling agency, Ford, was founded in the 1940s and revolutionizing the industry. Cosmetics contracts, cancelation fees, the word supermodel: The Fords did it all. Six years ago, I met with Eileen and Jerry at the University Club in Manhattan for a story in V magazine. (Jerry passed away in 2008.) By then, she could have passed as anyone’s sweet, sassy grannie. But I could still see the steely reserve that made her an icon in the industry behind the twinkle in her eye. Here is that story.
Time magazine once said that Eileen Ford, the iron-fisted matron of the modern modeling agency, ‘was part pit bull, part den mother – and all business.’ Today, at a spritely 86-years-old, the founder of Ford likes to think of herself more maternal than canine (“I don’t like pitbulls anyway,” she says when reminded of the quote. “Couldn’t I have been a bijon with a bite?”). Delicately sat on a couch in Manhattan’s University Club – which she prefers as it’s, “across the street from my hair dresser, down the street from Escada and around the corner from Michael’s” – Mrs. Ford is perfectly coiffed and buttoned up in grey slacks and a navy cardigan with white knit piping; always within arm’s length is Jerry Ford, her husband of nearly 7 decades, business partner, protector and person she calls “the other half of my life.” These two people, both now frail yet fervent, changed the face of fashion. Literally. This industry has a habit of lauding its major players – so and so redirected fashion with a new cut or a fancy coat – but Jerry and Eileen Ford completely overhauled their industry, and the porcelain and lean features from which fashion hangs. Cancelation fees, collecting payment from the client and the model, weather permits fees and fitting fees – all of these were Ford initiatives. “Girls used to have to try on endless dressing for nothing,” Ford says in horror. The way Ford treated her models blurred the line between mother and manager. She redefined what it was to be an agent. As Time magazine put it, “She takes sugar and space and everything nice, and turns it into cold hard cash.”
DB: I’m told you modeled as a young woman, Mrs. Ford.
EF: Yes, for one month of the summer, for two years, when I was in college.
DB: I imagine its changed since then.
EF: Yes, today a model is paid. A lot! I got $5 an hour, which my father thought was a terrible sum of money for a girl, outside of being naughty. We carried hatboxes with our makeup and things. One was so proud to have a hatbox with an agency’s name on it.
DB: How did you get switch to the booking side? I read it started as a hobby for two girlfriends of yours.
EF: It was no hobby – it was a full time job. I needed money! Jerry was away in the Navy during the war, and when he came home he could go on a football scholarship to Notre Dame or play professional football for the Los Angeles Rams. However, I upset all those plans by getting pregnant. The agencies then were ridiculous, just terrible. No one got to the right place at the right time, and if you asked for a blonde you were sure to get a brunette. If going to college did one thing for me it got me organized. We had no money – he was 20 when we got married, and we were living with my mother and father. So I started booking two models, each paying me $65 a month. It was 1946, so that was a sum of money. And then more models asked to come on board. Jerry, who had never booked in his life, started when I was pregnant. In those days you were supposed to stay in the hospital for 10 days after you have a child, but I was kicked out after five cause I tied up the nurses’ switch board booking girls from bed.
DB: Did you have any idea you would spend the rest of your life doing that?
EF: How could you? When you’re young you never look at the future. But everyone was unhappy with their agencies, so everyone came to us. We’d sit in the garden of my father’s business, at Lexington and 29th Street, with two phones. Daddy finally got fed up with us tying up his lines too, so we found our own offices on 2nd Avenue. We sold our car to pay the rent.
DB: Ford famously became a family affair. Were the models looking for a den mother?
EF: Sort of. They wanted a manager too. Some of them didn’t like it; like Naomi Campbell, who left us – four times. Christy Brinkley told us recently when she stayed with us she would come down in her pajamas and say she was doing laundry. When she’d get to the kitchen she’d change into her night clothes, put her pajamas in the oven, and know we’d be asleep when she got home. The models ate with us, they stayed with us, I would teach them manners if I needed to. We would go to the Met Museum and lectures, and to the country on the weekends. We were the same age at the beginning, don’t forget. We’d eat together, drink together, stay out all night together. We had a great time – but we’d average 4 hours of sleep a night!
DB: Surely there was at least one wild girl. Was Gia ever with you?
EF: Once, for about four days. Dick Avedon called us; we told him we didn’t want her, but he promised she was totally reformed. The first thing she did was not show to a booking, so I told her not to come back. She told me that she was in a car giving her dogs a ride or something – I have no sense of humor about that sort of thing.
DB: Indeed, you had little patience for misbehavior. You were mom, manager and booker.
EF: And their friend. If a girl found herself in trouble, I helped them, got them into rehab or off whatever they were on. I just found a letter from a model which said she never thanked me for saving her life. She had overdosed, and when I couldn’t get her on the phone I had the superintendent break her door down and shove her into rehab.
DB: Were you an active scouter?
EF: I’m still an active scouter. If I see someone today I’ll speak to them.
DB: You had a theory: “bones and body, body and bones.”
EF: I said that a long time ago. It’s still true, but now I want to amend it to include one other thing: she just has to be born to do it. It’s instinct. Jerry says, “God made models. But he made very few good ones.”
DB: What about personality?
EF: Let me ask you one question about that: Naomi Campbell?
DB: Hey, she definitely has a personality!
EF: She has had a few personalities. She could be a sweet as pie on minute — but you put up with so much more now than I could. I’ve always said we’ve raised a lot of people’s children.
DB: Do you think you defined generations of beauty?
EF: I think I verbalized it. I didn’t make a new look – Christian Dior made a New Look. But I have a good sense of fashion; I could put people together.
DB: Some of your competitors, notably John Casablancas, criticized your tenacity.
EF: Oh, if he said something unkind about me I said a lot more unkind things about him. More than he could think of. It’s such a different mentality, that French-anything-goes view. I loathed that, and I made no secret of it.
DB: Who are some of the photographers you loved to work with?
EF: Dick Avedon. When he used my girls it was a dream come true.
DB: And your favorite girls?
EF: From the beginning: Mary Jane Russell, we adored Suzy Parker; Jean Patchett was our Babe Ruth, the first one to hit it out of the park. And I liked other people in fashion too – editors Eugenia Shephard and Sally Kirkland.
DB: Do you know the girls working today? Do you know Gisele?
EF: We’re going to see Gisele next week, but I’m talking about the ballet. That’s as close as we’ve gotten. The only one I’ve met is Chanel Iman, and I think she’s a darling girl. We’re really out of it.
DB: Maybe you deserve a break.
EF: Don’t forget, I’m 86. But we’re still interested in the industry. I still check in and send my bookers presents. This has been mine and Jerry’s lives. Actually, it’s been our life. Cause we’ve only had one together. And it was this.
THE NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY ON EILEEN FORD
Little known fact about me and Alexander Wang: We were both interns together at Vogue in the early 200o’s. Schlepping around Conde Nast wasn’t our only shared experience, however. Does anyone else remember Mango, the SNL character from the late 1990′s that could bewitch anyone with his odd (booty shorts? greasy hair?) charms? Alex did, and so did I, which is why I jumped at the chance to make a cameo appearance in a comedic film that Alex commissioned, which heralds the return of Mango. Chris Kattan is the man behind the Mango, and he’s without a doubt a comedic genius. Need a teaser? Check out the blooper reel.
But now, for the entire Mango opus. (Go ahead and scroll to 5:42 to find my mom’s favorite part of the video, when Mango asks, ‘Derek Blasberg, why are you everywhere?’ Which seems to be a particular anthem of my mother too.)
This year, the Gagosian Gallery published a special edition Frieze newspaper. It’s an exciting venture that has unprecedented access to some of the art world’s most important contemporary artists, including Ed Ruscha (who’s work is the focus of the Gagosian booth at the Frieze Art Fair), Urs Fischer, Glenn Brown, Jeff Koons and Dan Colen. Richard Prince himself contributed his own prose. I wrote several pieces in the paper, including the one excerpted here on the opening of the Met gala. (See my Met gala pictures here.) I spoke to Harold Koda, the bigwig at the Costume Institute, about Charles James, the tortured genius that is the focus of this year’s show, and about Anna Wintour, who the costume center has been recently renamed after. And for good reason, according to Koda. Be sure to pick up a copy of the newspaper at any of the gallery’s outposts around the world, and at the fair. And, as always, for more information on our artists and upcoming shows, go to Gagosian.com Before Frieze, this week will be about fashion. On Monday, May 5th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s newly renamed Costume Institute will hold a star-studded opening for their show Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The gala, hosted this year by Bradley Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Aerin Lauder, Oscar de la Renta, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, has become known as the party of the year. High fashion teams up with Hollywood, all in the name of fundraising for one of the country’s most important museum resources for the decorative arts.
The real star of Monday night, however, is a man who’s name has been, until now, only familiar to fashion historians. Charles James (1906 – 1978) was the preeminent fashion designer of the mid-twentieth century, dressing high-society ladies in complex, revolutionary ball gowns and convertible separates. According to the Costume Instituttes’ curator in charge, Harold Koda, James’s skill transcended that of a fashion designer. “No one worked like he did. His constructions, his clothes, are outside of traditional fashion. He was an artist.” Indeed, the name of the show, Beyond Fashion, came from a title the designer chose for his unpublished, unfinished autobiography.
Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, agrees: “James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s logic.” Before he died, James was aware his legacy would be the artistry of his designs – as opposed to just a name stitched on a fashion label – which is why he directed so many of his pieces to academic institutions, namedly the Brooklyn Museum, which kept in its permanent collection many of his most breathtaking gowns (worn by such clients as Austine Hearst, Millicent Rogers, and Dominique de Menil), until the Metropolitan acquired the collection in 2009. (James has been the focus of two large-scale retrospectives: at the Brooklyn Museum in 1982, and at the Chicago History Museum two years ago.)
In his professional life, however, James vacillated between celebrated artist and fashion’s ultimate pauper. His last studio was a derelict room in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where he worked until he died amid much more meager circumstances than he knew at the height of his career. (This show features some partically completed works that were discovered there posthumously.) He was famously difficult to work with, despite receiving many awards for his work and retaining a top-notch clientele. “Hubris? Yes, he was known to be an egomaniac in many aspects of his life, and as a business partner, he was a nightmare,” Koda explains. “But he really approached the making of clothes as an artist. He would look at designs for decades. There are certains designs that he began in 1929, that he finished in the ‘50s, even after he closed his house. That’s truly exploring a concept.”
The show opens to the public on May 8 in a recently refurbished and renamed space of the musum: the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Naming the gallery after the legendary Vogue editor and current artistic director of Conde Nast was a no-brainer, according to Koda. As a Met trustee since 1999, and a chair of the Costume Institute gala since 1995, Wintour has raised more than $125million for the institute alone. “We have always been able to count on the support of one person, and that’s Anna,” Koda says. “We’re here because she is.”
I’m a recent Chelsea transplant. (After living amidst yummy mummys and bankers in Tribeca for a few years, being so close to art galleries and the Highline was a welcomed change of pace.) My buddies at the mens label Berluti asked for a tour of my new New York neighborhood, and I was only too happy to give it to them. Even if we nearly froze our fingertips off. Watch me wander around my favorite hotspots, including the 192 Books shop, both Gagosian galleries, the Chelsea market, Cookshop restaurant and the abrasive symphony that is New York City traffic.
My good pal Emma asked me if I’d interview her for the newest issue of Wonderland magazine, which is on stands now. As with everything she does, she took on the project of a guest editor of the magazine with gusto. And I was only too happy to get lost in her enthusiasm. Below is our chat.
Emma and I together at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013
My mother is the first person to say I always wanted a little brother or sister. I was the youngest in my entire family, and I always felt like it was a disservice to humanity that there wasn’t someone after me onto whom I could dispel my pearls of wisdom. So, when Emma Watson – then a smiley, sweet, super smart teenager – and I became buddies, I felt like my childhood prayers had been answered. There was only one striking difference: Emma, wise beyond her years, already knew more than I did about just about everything and didn’t need any such advice. Emma is one of those rare breeds of people who have an intuition, a good head on their shoulders, a quick judgment. I can’t be certain that, as her adopted big bro, she’s learned any of that from me, but I will say she’s taught me a thing or two. She is concise, put together, organised, forthright and reliable. (Which are not the sorts of adjectives that apply to most child actors.) Back when I’d visit her on the Harry Potter sets, her dressing areas would be tidy(ish) and her well worn and bookmarked books would be stacked everywhere. She navigated the pressures of filming the world’s most successful cinema franchise with elegance and grace, and she didn’t forget to do the little things, like send funny postcards from vacations and fruit baskets at the holidays. After Potter, I watched her grow into a beautiful young woman who is navigating a career that’s entirely her own. It’s been an interesting transition: As she herself says, she felt she was an adult even when she was in the body a little girl waving a magic wand. Now, it’s as though she has caught up with herself. In the film Perks of Being a Wallflower, she charmingly captured the end of an American innocence. In Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, she made me smile as she poked fun at the pitfalls of teenage American materialism. In the upcoming Noah, she tackles the role of a biblical daughter-in-law in an epic adventure. Behold: Emma, a thoroughly modern woman.
DEREK BLASBERG: Where are you right now and what are you doing?
EMMA WATSON: Right now I’m on holiday. I’m stood on the balcony of my hotel room and I’m scratching my feet because I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos. I look like I have a disease. I’m told I have sweet blood.
D: Well, I’m freezing in New York, so you won’t get much mosquito sympathy from me.
E: Well, I miss New York. I loved living there.
D: You were in New York during Hurricane Sandy. How surreal was that?
E: It was surreal for a couple of reasons. It delayed the end of our shooting for a few weeks, so we got the irony of filming an epic biblical movie about a flood, and then a storm comes and floods much of New York. It even damaged the ark, which was what set us back. The other reason that it was surreal was because you and I were on the Upper East Side, which was completely unfazed by the storm. We had high speed Internet and our phones. All the shops were open and, even weirder, people were shopping in them. The Carlyle Hotel was packed with people getting drinks. I remember calling you and asking, ‘Isn’t there something we can do I feel like such a waste of space?’ And you took me on a meal delivery with Citymeals on Wheels. That was amazing that we could do that. Do you remember Pearl?
D: How could I forget Pearl?
E: She was the spritely 90-year-old woman who was listening to Elvis Prestley records when we knocked on her door and delivered her food. Pearl was a babe.
D: Were you ever scared during the storm?
E: I remember not taking it very seriously, and then my dad called and said I should fill the bath with water. And I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ He said to put on the news and then I realized it was going to be a serious thing in some areas. When I showed up at Brown they warned me that it was going to get cold, and I said, ‘ I’m from England. I know what cold is.’ But I soon learned that, no, I didn’t know what cold is. My first semester at Brown [in Providence, Rhode Island], when it got into the negative temperatures, I just didn’t want to leave my dorm room. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I’d only go out to get supplies. The cold makes me miserable!
D: Speaking of Brown, I’m very proud that you are going to be an official Ivy League graduate soon.
E: Yes! I’m going to graduate in May, which I can’t believe. I can’t. I just can’t! Very exciting.
D: So, tell me: What do you plan on doing with that major?
E: Tough question… I’ve been very fulfilled by my studies. English has helped me think in an analytical way. It’s helped me see the world from new perspectives. Diving into these stories and characters has given richness to my own life. And now, when I read scripts or look at stories, I have these references for a larger understanding of humanity. I’m sure it will make my job as an actress more interesting.
D: I visited you on the Harry Potter set a few times, and it was like a little family and everyone knew each other.
E: It was. I miss the people too. I miss the familiarity.
D: And to go from that to a new place, a new school, with new friends – must not have been easy, right?
E: I really wanted a new experience. I loved not knowing anyone. It felt very exciting, and I felt like I was striking out on my own in a very real, very new way. But there’s this thing called the Sophomore Slump, which is a phenomenon that is apparently known and recognized, though I had never heard of it. It caught me by surprise. For the first year at university, everything is new and exciting. You don’t realize that you don’t have your support structure, your home comforts, and all those touchstones that help keep you on track. Then, after the first year, when the adrenaline wears off, you find yourself in a slump. That’s what happened to me by the end of my third term. I felt very unsettled and lost.
D: My mother always told me that in struggles we find strength.
E: She’s right. Now I really know how to take care of myself, how to be alone, how to deal with stress. If I hadn’t been through that time, I wouldn’t have got there. I never knew I had limits. You make good friends and you make bad friends, and you have to figure it all out. You realize you can’t do everything. I really did think I could do it all – commute back to the UK for Potter filming and press, then go to Brown for finals, and keep up with my friends and family. You can’t do by the way. You do have to take breaks. It’s how I became interested in meditation and yoga. I developed bedtime rituals.
D: Like what?
E: You’re going to laugh, but now every night before I go to bed I make a hot water bottle. It’s a ritual that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, and that’s important.
D: Learning how to be alone is a good lesson, and one I don’t think a lot of actresses learn.
E: I realized that. When you’re on a film set you’re watched and you’re never alone and there are all these demands on your time. Everyone knows where you are at every moment of the day. Then, I went to Brown and suddenly I was all alone. At first I hated it. Now, I’m happy to be by myself. I can be calm and productive and content, alone in my apartment.
D: Now, be honest: Have you ever wanted to go off the rails? Like, get drunk and get a tattoo?
E: Ha, I love tattoos. But I love them on other people. In fact, I have a Pinterest account and a whole board of tattoos that I like – but I would never want one for myself. I don’t think I could pull it off. My own self-image would not allow it.
D: But you’re not as puritanical as that, Emma.
E: I feel like I’ve been given a lot of credit where it isn’t due that I don’t like to party. The truth is that I’m genuinely a shy, socially awkward, introverted person. At a big party, I’m like Bambie in the headlights. It’s too much stimulation for me, which is why I end up going to the bathroom! I need time outs! You’ve seen me at parties, Derek. I get anxious. I’m terrible at small talk and I have a ridiculously short attention span.
D: That, I have noticed. Is part of that because you’ve become this big public figure?
E: Probably. I feel a pressure when I’m meeting new people because I’m aware of their expectations. That makes socializing difficult. Which isn’t to say that when I’m in a small group and around my friends, I don’t love to dance and be extroverted. I am just extremely self-conscious in public.
D: On that note, I’d like to formally apologize for being so shocked when you cut off all your hair.
E: Why? I loved that you were one of the first people to see it. I loved your reaction. You were utterly shocked. It was an appropriate reaction for a big brother.
D: You caught me off guard. It was so unexpected.
E: It wasn’t unexpected to me. I had been crafting it in my mind for years. So, when the time came, I went ahead and did it.
D: Have you ever thought of the psychology behind it? Like, did you do it because you were done with Harry Potter and you wanted to craft yourself a new image? Like Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games?
E: I think Jennifer Lawrence needed to cut hers off. But I see the parallel you’re trying to make. Maybe Miley Cyrus is a better example?
D: Ha! Exactly.
E: My mother always had really short hair, always had a pixie. So for me, it wasn’t as crazy as it was to you. To be honest, I felt more myself with that haircut. I felt bold, and it felt empowering because it was my choice. It felt sexy too. Maybe it was the bare neck, but for some reason I felt super, super sexy.
D: So, one day you’ll cut it again?
E: Absolutely. I miss it so much. The minute I get pregnant, the first thing I’m going to do is cut my hair off because I know I won’t be working for a time. If I wasn’t an actress, I’d keep it that way. I could wash it in the sink and shake it out like a dog. It’s so low maintenance!!!!
D: Let’s continue discussing appearances. Has fashion been any sort of fulfillment for you?
E: I love fashion as a thing. And I very much still follow it and find it interesting and when I come across something really great I get excited and I’m inspired. But there was a moment when I took a step away from fashion.
D: I was once sat next to Gwen Stefani at some fashion event, and she told me she always often feels like she’s in a Saturday Night Live skit at those things.
E: I find it slightly surreal too. I can remember my first Paris fashion week, and the insanity and hysteria that went along with it. Just to get into a fashion show? It’s more intense than a movie premiere. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t go to more shows, but to be honest I’d rather watch it on the internet. Fashion is this massive, huge industry, which I like to dip my toes into. But it’s not my industry.
D: That’s true. Film is. Do you remember the day that you and me went to see the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate, and I told you that I could see you being a producer or director one day? And you looked at me like I had ten heads.
E: Yes! People say that to me a lot now. Maybe I will one day.
D: Are you still looking for something else you enjoy doing?
E: Do you remember that time I called you up and asked if you knew anyone who needed an intern? And you almost died laughing?
D: Yes. You asked if I knew anyone who wanted you to be their personal assistant for a week.
E: I was serious! I am interested in everything!!! This year, I’m turning 24. A lot of my friends are really worried about turning 24, but I like that I’m getting older. In a way, I started out like this old lady, and now I feel like my age is catching up with me. And I’m excited by all these new things for me to do. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish as an actress. I’d love to try theater and that’s a whole other thing. But when I finish my degree, I will have a lot more time to pursue other passions, and I want to figure out what those will be. I love having something completely unrelated to the film industry. I want to find something that will let me use my brain in another way. I like connecting people who aren’t part of that world too.
D: I’ve seen your paintings, they’re swell.
E: I love painting. So maybe I hone in on that and do more art classes? Or maybe something different.
D: Well, I know you’re great at yoga.
E: Then, there you go. I can be a full time actress and a personal part-time yoga teacher?
D: It’s a plan.
[See more from the story here]
I’m often asked who’s been my favorite interview of all time. It’s a long list, but the name that always pops to mind is Tom Ford. And that’s for a variety of reasons: He’s handsome, he’s polite, he’s seductive, he has that special thing when he talks to someone it feels like he’s looking into your soul and you’re the only person in the entire world.
I remember the first time I interviewed Tom. It was for the London Sunday Times. He had just opened the Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue in New York. It was during a chubbier phase in my life when I was wearing bowties. (Don’t get me started.) And after his legendary tenure at Gucci, where he redefined modern sexuality, I had to ask: “So, what do you think is sexy now?” Without missing a beat, he said, “I think bowties are really sexy right now.” I blushed like a school girl. Since that moment and in the numerous interviews we’ve had since, I’ve been hooked. Hooked on Tom Ford.
Another reason Tom is the ultimate interview? He goes there. In the below interview, which I did exclusively for 10magazine, he didn’t hold back. We were asked to discuss movies – which we did: His first movie was the Wizard of Oz; he liked Great Gatsby, which isn’t a surprise – but as with any chat with him, things veered into hedonism. Like, that smell of cocaine that really isn’t a smell but you can definitely smell it? (That was an anecdote from Studio 54, which we get to eventually.) He’s also not the biggest fan of Honey Boo Boo Child. Above all else, though, he loves making movies, especially the writing process when it’s still in his mind and everything is perfect and before the real world fucks it up. All this and more. Happy reading!
Tom Ford and I at his store opening in London.
TOM FORD: “I’m warning you, I’m so comfortable with you I may have a hard time making the effort to answer the questions properly. It takes a lot of energy to think of an answer that’s going to mean something.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “But you’re a pro. And we’re talking about film, which you know a thing or two about. I’ll go easy on you. What’s your earliest cinematic memory?”
TOM FORD: “The Wizard of Oz. When I grew up in America, they only ran it once a year. I was probably three. It was a big deal. We had color television by then because I remember seeing it in color. And I remember my parents telling me that day, ‘Wow, tonight there’s this great movie coming on – The Wizard of Oz.’ We watched it and it terrified me.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What! How?”
TOM FORD: “The wicked witch? The flying monkeys? And the little dog, too! The witch melts at the end! That’s terrifying.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I thought you were going to say you loved it, and you’ve dreamt of sequined red shoes ever since. Are you still scared of that movie?”
TOM FORD: “No, I watch it now and enjoy it. By the way, we couldn’t have had The Great Gatsby without The Wizard of Oz.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You’re the first person I’ve heard make that comparison, but it makes sense. I’ve found that Gatsby has become such a polarizing film.”
TOM FORD: “Everything is divided these days. Some of my friends hated it and some loved it. I loved it. I thought the casting was good, I thought the drama was good. I thought it actually told the story of the book in a more accurate, intense way than the one with Robert Redford. I saw it in 3-D. The layers and layers of camera work it took to make that is impressive. And I loved the way he always uses contemporary music in his films because it gives us, today’s audience, the same rush that a 1920s audience would have had while listening to jazz, which was totally new at the time. That’s not a new trick because he’s used it in every one of his movies. But, let’s stop this. I don’t want to review Baz Luhrmann’s film because I wouldn’t appreciate him reviewing my clothes.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “As a film-maker yourself, when you watch a film, can you detach yourself from a director’s point of view?”
TOM FORD: “I always dissect it. My emotional life is absorbing what’s happening, but I am also very aware of the shots and the cutting and the clever use of something or the depth of field or the shifting. I won’t name films, but sometimes performances that people think are so spectacular are actually the result of innovative sound design or editing.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Can a film be technically terrible but still great?”
TOM FORD: “Oh, absolutely. Sometimes those are even better. Like ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Don’t kill me, Tom, but I’ve never seen that film.”
TOM FORD: “What? How can you call yourself a self-respecting homosexual and not have seen this film?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I know!”
TOM FORD: “It’s not even an old 1940s movie that people of your generation don’t watch any more! Marc [Jacobs] has done collections based off of it. I’ve done collections based off of it. Shoots based on it. Let’s go on YouTube right now. [Tom gets his computer and plays the trailer for the film.] Now, aren’t you dying to see that? It’s shocking you don’t know it.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I told you I was embarrassed!”
TOM FORD: “[The director] Russ Myer is a genius. The camera angles are inspired and it was so innovated for its time. Even though it was made as kitsch, camp send-up, it’s still great. It was on the dawn of pop, just as Warhol and Lichtenstein were blowing up.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What other films would you consider works of genius?”
TOM FORD: “I could pick genius films from every period for a variety of different reasons. If I had to pick a decade it would probably be the 1930s. Most of my favorites that I would watch over and over again would be from the 1930s and early 1940s. I like Hitchcock, too.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What about that particular time period is so amazing? The silhouette?”
TOM FORD: “The silhouette? Derek, not everything is about fashion.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “But I thought that with you it would always come back to the fashion. Designer first, director second?”
TOM FORD: “I know I’m not giving you a tight answer. Let me think this through. There was a moment when I was shooting my film that really hit me – I was watching Colin [Firth] and Julianne [Moore] together in the scene when they have their fight. We shot it over two or three days. While I was watching them on the monitor, I could remember sitting in my bed and writing exactly what I was looking at. Right there were the things I had made up in my head actually happening. Here was this woman walking through this door exactly as I had written it. Saying exactly what I had written. Dressed exactly as I had imagined. So while we can say everything in these movies didn’t really happen, they did happen! Someone filmed them. They happened. They occurred because actors and other people made them happen. They existed. One of the reasons I love Los Angeles so much is that it only exists in the world of film. Am I making any sense? [Silence.] Ha! All the films that create an imaginary life and only actually happened on film were real, are real, in some capacity. And this imaginary world of film is part of my life and my culture, so it’s hard for me to say, ‘Yes, I was inspired by this film to do this dress.’ Yes, there are particular dresses in particular films that, while I’m watching, I go, ‘Fuck!’ and I get up and I get out a piece of paper and say, ‘That shoulder looks great again’, or ‘Oh, it’s time for that waist again.’ But there is a giant file in my head of this alternative universe where thousands of films and women exist, and they are as real to me as the women I know in the real world. Now am I making sense?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Yes, and I understand. I’ve fallen in love with people in movies, too.”
TOM FORD: “Nowadays, though, it’s not people in movies. We still live in a world of parallels. As a lot of people have fewer real-life friends, they try to connect with unreal ones. Maybe they’re online friends, or maybe it’s watching The Real Housewives. That’s why there is this fascination with the minutiae of other people’s real lives. The Housewives are now the women that live down the street that the mothers in the neighborhood would gossip about. They just don’t live down the street any more; now, they live in New Jersey or Texas, or wherever those shows are filmed. But you’re fascinated because you don’t really know your next-door neighbor any more. You watch them intimately because other people’s lives are fascinating.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “So it’s in the films of the 1940s that you find your friends and inspiration?”
TOM FORD: “Yes. The chic people from the 1940s are my friends. My parallel life is Barbara Stanwyck in 1942. Henry Fonda. That’s where I am. I’m hanging out in the desert with those crazy girls [from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’] and I’m still drinking and smoking and maybe doing some drugs. But, ‘Honey Boo Boo Child’ is not my friend.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You said in film that you are gratified when something you envision comes to life. Do you have the same experience when you design a collection?
TOM FORD: “I have it at the fitting before the fashion show. The way we work today is really weird. We don’t work like Yves [Saint Laurent] used to work. Couturiers used to buy a bunch of fabrics that they liked and put them in the closet and when they were ready to design a new collection they would go in that closet and say, ‘Oh, that pink taffeta looks pretty. What’s going to look good with that? Orange chiffon? Okay. That one.’ It was built organically. The way we do it today – even at the highest level of design – is that you sketch something for the leather factory and off they go. You sketch your tops and your shoes and whatever else, and off they go. You have an idea of how it’s going to come together, but it’s all done compartmentally – and then 10 days before the show, it happens! And then it’s luck. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it all arrives and the shoes look wrong with the skirt and the shoulder pads look off. So the great moments of ‘wow!’ are in the fitting. When a girl puts it on and she walks across the room and it works. That’s when you get it. Besides, during a show, I’m not out there watching it. I’m sitting backstage and worrying, ‘Shit! Did the lighting cue work? Is the music on time? Where is that girl? Is she dressed? WHY ISN’T HER SHOE ON?’ And then after the show, I step out and think, ‘Fuck. Was it terrible? Was it good?’ And then I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, if it’s bad, how is it going to sell? If it’s good, what am I going to do next season?’ Actually, now that we’re talking about it, I can tell you I get depressed – no matter what – for two or three days after a show.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What do you do in the depressing days?”
TOM FORD: “Well, in the old days at Gucci and Saint Laurent, where I worked less hard than I do now and I didn’t own the company outright, I took to my bed. Always. And just kind of slept for two or three days. In the new world, I have to drag myself here to the office and go through the collection with the merchandisers and make sure the pricing is right and the showroom looks beautiful and alter anything I can at the last minute before the buyers come in. Then I’m working on the next collection. It doesn’t stop.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Well, how are you going to make another movie with that schedule?”
TOM FORD: “I’m dying to make another one! I naïvely thought, ‘Yeah, I can make a movie every two years and do women’s collections and men’s.’ But I was wrong. Maybe this August I’ll deal with it. I have options. I have a couple of books I’ve started adapting. I thought I haven’t made another movie because I haven’t had the time. But the reality is I haven’t found the right project. It’s like when you’re first in a relationship and you have sex all the time no matter what you’re doing, no matter how tired or busy you are. But then a few years in, it’s, ‘We’re not having sex because I’m really tired and I’ve been working too hard.’ That’s bullshit. You’re not having sex because you’re just not having sex, and then you rationalize why. Maybe it’s not that I don’t have the time. Maybe it’s that I’m not making the time because I’m not inspired.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What’s your favorite part of that process of moviemaking?”
TOM FORD: “Writing. I loved all of it, but writing was the most satisfying because it doesn’t exist yet. So, when you write ‘She was the most beautiful woman in the world’, she really is. Then the actress could come in and she’s bow-legged and we have to shoot from the knees up. Reality rarely lives up to the imaginary perfection. As you write it, it’s perfect. You’re not up against a budget problem or the fact that it’s supposed to be snowing and you’re shooting in the summer and the heat is melting your fake snow.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “That’s when you still have a fantasy.”
TOM FORD: “That’s when it’s perfect. That’s when it’s in your head. And, of course, in your head everyone loves it, because it’s so perfect.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Do you miss writing?”
TOM FORD: “Of course I do. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life. There were some moments at Studio 54 that were pretty fun, but this topped even that.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Oh, Tom, tell me about Studio 54.”
TOM FORD: “Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I remember having a vodka tonic in a glass and a bottle of poppers in my nose and jumping up and down on the dance floor, and it’s so clear in my memory.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I don’t have that sort of triggered memory from music. I get that from smells. Like, if I smell CK One, I think about being in love with the wrong people in high school.”
TOM FORD: “Well, if I smell poppers, I think of the late 1970s. Studio 54 reeked of poppers.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Really?”
TOM FORD: “Yeah! There was a very definite smell to it. Poppers, alcohol, cigarettes. Cocaine doesn’t really smell, but that’s kind of in your mind, so it smelled like coke, too. It was fuelled by coke. The whole place was coke. No one was mopey because the whole place was on drugs.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Have you seen any of the films about Studio 54?”
TOM FORD: “Yes, but none of them capture it. When you look at the photographs you see a wood floor, but I never saw the floor when I was there. It was dark and there were neon lights that glowed. You just saw flashes and had smells and knew people. Nothing has ever truly captured that. Baz Luhrmann came the closest to it in his party scenes in Moulin Rouge, and in Gatsby, too. That’s what it was like. My memories of 54? There is Brooke Shields over there with Michael Jackson. Over there are two guys fucking. And there is a naked person wrapped in Saran Wrap dancing. And that’s Princess Grace. I couldn’t get enough of it. Marc Jacobs can tell you about it, too, because his boyfriend at one time owned Xenon, the rival club. We used to go back and forth between Studio and Xenon because they were both in Midtown. Then you’d go downtown to the Mudd Club. The Mudd Club was new wave, a more glamorized version of punk. It was way downtown, which used to be a drag. But Studio was open until dawn, so when Mudd Club slowed down and you had done so much coke you didn’t care and you had tons of energy, you would go back uptown. And then you slept all day. You’d paid some guy down the hall to write your term paper and you’d go to class at 4pm and hand it in. Then you went home for a nap and woke up and did it all again. Took a ‘disco nap.’ Those still exist, don’t they?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Yes. I’m familiar with the disco nap. But I hate this feeling that I missed everything, Tom.”
TOM FORD: “No, you didn’t! Your generation had something equivalent.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I guess we had the Beatrice Inn. Everyone compares it to Studio 54.”
TOM FORD: “I don’t ever go to New York! I go once a year for the Met Ball for 24 hours.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Why don’t you like New York?”
TOM FORD: “I loved New York when I was young and single. Maybe I don’t like it now because the only time I go is for work. I don’t like making performances. I don’t like signing perfume bottles at stores. I don’t like that stuff. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You prefer LA.”
TOM FORD: “Totally. I prefer it because you can get in your car. You can be really anonymous in LA.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I grew up in Missouri with cars and yards and dogs, and I miss that.”
TOM FORD: “I love to be able to get in my car and go somewhere. I like those 20 minutes all alone to listen to music and be by myself and get my thoughts together and be alone before I get somewhere.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I like being able to change in a car.”
TOM FORD: “Well, a car is a giant handbag! You don’t have to carry anything anywhere; it’s all in your car.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “We’re getting off topic, Tom. We’re supposed to be talking about the movies.
TOM FORD: “I love film, Derek, but what I love about real life is that it’s a movie you can only see once.”
Tom Ford and I at a dinner in London. I was getting an earful.
For more from Tom, check out: www.tomford.com
For my new column in V magazine, appropriately called LAST WORD BLASBERG, I interviewed a titan of this industry: Giorgio Armani. The guy is an icon, and he’s not afraid to show it. Why learn English when you’re the king of Italian fashion? We talk about New York, muses and his fellow pantsuit aficionado Hilary Clinton.
Welcome to New York!
Giorgio Armani I love it here. It’s a city in continuous, constant evolution, with inexhaustible energy.
Do you remember your first time?
GA How could I forget? It was 1979; I came to collect the Neiman Marcus Award, which was a big deal for an Italian at the time. I was just starting out, and when I arrived my idea of New York was entirely based on films. For me it was a city of pure fantasy, made up of black-and-white images.
GA Mostly the films of Fred Astaire, but also Mean Streets by Scorsese. I fell in love immediately. I like how it changes from one block to the next. Then there are the people, an electrifying mix of humanity that you can’t find anywhere else.
Are you an uptown or downtown person?
GA My style is perhaps uptown, but the New York that I like is downtown: chaotic but alive and in ferment. I’ve always found the concepts underlying the American Dream fascinating: tenacity, a sense of responsibility and liberty, full belief in what one does. These are values and thoughts that I too have always been inspired by in pursuing my own dream. So it’s no coincidence that in America my dream instantly garnered support.
Do you like any other American cities?
GA Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard. It is such an immense city, so different from European ones. It is the cradle of cinema and the type of glamour that dreams are made of.
Since starting your label, have you ever worn a suit designed by someone other than Giorgio Armani?
GA No, I’ve only ever worn my own clothes. It’s a natural choice, don’t you think?
Do you have a muse?
GA Many. Certain garments are created especially for some of them, like the decidedly eccentric dress I designed for Lady Gaga. But I shouldn’t name names when it comes to my muses. I would forget someone and I wouldn’t hear the end of it…
OK, let’s talk about dead people then. What historical figure would you like to have designed for?
GA As a designer, the past has never attracted me. I admire historical figures, in particular the emancipated women of the 1920s, like Zelda Fitzgerald. But I am more interested in dressing modern women.
Who’s the first person that you think of when you think of a modern woman?
GA Cate Blanchett. Cate is truly modern, both fragile and strong, glacial and sensual. Hers is a unique elegance, because it is genuine.
The thing I admire most about you is that you have reached that stage in your career when you don’t have to humor fools or do anything you don’t want to. You are the king. To me, being in charge is the ultimate luxury.
GA I haven’t really thought about it. I think that it’s a stage that you arrive at unknowingly and you act accordingly. Like when you move from adolescence to maturity, one day you are no longer a boy but a man. That’s all there is to it. I have always been a man of action.
We’re communicating through a translator. Do you think you ever will learn English?
GA Never say never. But at the moment I grant myself this little luxury of not learning English. Not speaking it grants me the electrifying feeling of being a foreigner in transit. I like this.
Any American phrases you particularly like?
GA I like “hands-on.” It sums up my sense of pragmatism. You have to be hands-on to have success.
How do you stay so physically fit?
GA I believe in the motto, “A healthy mind is a healthy body.” I exercise consistently. For me this is essential. A balanced diet is undoubtedly another secret to keeping fit. And then there’s work, which keeps not only the body but also the mind fit.
Retrospectives tend to make the public feel nostalgic. Do you feel that?
GA Nostalgic celebrations create melancholy, and melancholy is not part of my makeup. My exhibition is not designed to be a commemoration but a gift to the people of the Big Apple who have always followed and supported my style. For this reason I didn’t just want to offer them a great parade, but also show the eccentric side of my fashion. I always look to the future and the new challenges that are waiting for me. The past is made up of lessons already learned and errors that won’t happen again. Nothing more.
Looking back, is there any particular Armani design that you’re most proud of?
GA It’s difficult to choose. I’m linked to certain things I did at the beginning, like the soft and completely embroidered male suit. It encapsulates my concept of the eccentric, only slightly theatrical and infinitely exquisite.
Speaking of suits and the American Dream, what do you think of Hillary Clinton?
GA I like her decisive and feisty manner. I like her self-assured and determined way.
She’s a self-described pantsuit aficionado. If Hillary were president, what do you think she should wear to the inauguration?
GA I love a strong woman in a suit, although a powerful woman today doesn’t need to wear trousers to succeed. An authoritative appearance helps though, and let’s just say Mrs. Clinton looks good in pants. So, yeah, she’d look great in a soft and sophisticated Armani pantsuit for that inauguration ceremony.
Last year, I teamed up with my friends Classy Cat and Drunk Pussy to help illustrate holiday etiquette. Not much has changed since then: The holidays are still a time of merriment, etiquette is still important, and cats still rule the internet. So, without further ado, behold ‘The Eticats.’ (And for more, scroll down to see some hilarious bloopers and outtakes.)
I’m down here in Miami for the Art Basel festivities (check back this weekend for more pics and goss) and last night at a dinner for Louis Vuitton, Cindy Crawford showed up and put every other hussy at the Raleigh Hotel to shame. At one point, when the legendary hair dresser Oribe turned up, she did this sexy shimmy in her stiletto heels — in the sand — that left me gobsmacked. Not that this was the first time that I’d spoken to Cindy. I caught up with my fellow Midwesterner in the issue of V that’s on stands now for a fashion story where she cavorted with the handsome Clemente in the woods in Brooklyn wearing menwear. The story is reprinted here, as well as a sultry video from the photo shoot. (Click here to see the full story and more of Sebastien Faena’s glorious pictures of Cindy.) In our interview we talked about everything from West Coast dinner time to Harry Styles, but the part that I think was more pertinent is when she says that she’s a better model today than she ever was. Last night, there wasn’t a man who would have disagreed.
There’s a reference in modeling that captures a certain era: “B.C.,” as in “Before Cindy.” Cindy Crawford ignited the fashion world when she appeared on the cover of Vogue at the tender age of 21, with her killer bod, signature birthmark, and otherworldly appeal. Originally from a small town in Illinois, she would go on to become one of the most super of all the supermodels, a muse to Gianni Versace, and a household name, with her stints as MTV’s House of Style host and spokeswoman for Revlon and Pepsi.
The multi-hyphenate model, now 47, is still in demand in front of the cameras, and has launched her own multimillion dollar businesses too—making her more alluring than ever. Cindy told us that she feels like she’s a better model now—and by the looks of these photos, we’re inclined to agree with her.
What’s it like to be back in New York?
CINDY CRAWFORD When I arrived and got to the hotel I walked to a little market to get some things for a protein shake the next day, and I was reminded of the city’s energy, that buzz. I lived in New York for 15 years. I miss it sometimes. It’s very different from my life in Malibu. You don’t walk in Malibu…or else people think your car is broken down! In L.A. you go to dinner at 7 pm and in New York you go to dinner at 9 pm. But then in the Midwest it’s 5:30 pm.
That’s right, you’re a Midwestern girl. I’m a Midwestern boy. Maybe life in California is a mix of the people from the East Coast with the laid-back lifestyle of the middle of the country.
CC I grew up in a small town in Illinois where you never locked your door. I didn’t even have a house key. Midwestern people like us are nice, sometimes to a fault. You smile at strangers. But then you go to New York and everyone is hustling and in a hurry with their heads down. I love New York, but it’s a city of excesses. Too much of everything…the good and the bad. There are great restaurants, but you don’t know where to eat because there are so many choices! It was perfect for my 20s, when I was working so much, but I wouldn’t have known how to raise kids in an apartment.
Speaking of your kids, my assistant is obsessed with Harry Styles and she told me he came over for an impromptu pizza party with your daughter. What happened there?
CC Oh, that? [laughs] He stopped by to say hi when my kids and I were making pizzas. My kids were doing their own little pizzas and they couldn’t slide them off the pan. Harry goes, “Well, did you put down enough flour so they wouldn’t stick?” And my husband says, “How in the world do you know that?” and my little girl chimes in, “Oh, he used to work for a bakery, Dad. Everyone knows that.”
And started blushing, I bet.
CC Are you kidding? My daughter is twelve. That was bigger than her birthday!
Your kids are gorgeous. I know one of them did a Versace kids’ campaign. What are your thoughts on them getting into the family business?
CC That opportunity felt organic. I worked for Versace a lot in my career and I knew Mert and Marcus were the photographers and Donatella would be there. That’s a dream team. So I figured if she ever wanted to do it this would be a good experience, and it was. We had to drive three hours to the shoot and she had to miss a friend’s birthday party, and then we had to wait in the trailer for three more hours because they shot Gisele first. At the end, she thought, “This is boring.” And I said, “This is work.” It was a good lesson. If she wants to do it, I’m a good guide. I can help her make good decisions, but now I think she’d rather be an actress.
How do you reflect on that supermodel era?
CC What a wonderful time for me. That was a fun time to be a model. It was a lot of focus on fashion and how all these worlds were colliding. MTV was bringing music and fashion and television together. It felt really fun, and we were all really busy and really making money.
Do you ever use that word, “supermodel”?
CC In a tongue-in-cheek way, maybe. At first I found it silly. Do we change into capes and tights in phone booths? But with anything, the more you hear it, the more it seeps into your language. What it means to me is that before us models were more two-dimensional—mostly nameless faces on magazine covers. We were the tipping point. Some girls before us, like Twiggy and Lauren Hutton, were making the shift. But what was unique about our group was that there were five of us and we were all very different but looked good together. Is it five or seven? I never know who to include. Depends on who you ask, I guess. It was a moment when it felt fresh and different and new.
Were you aware of it in the moment?
CC If I had to label my supermodel moment, I would say it was that Versace show when Naomi, Linda, Christy, and I all came out together. We had just done the George Michael video for “Freedom,” and George was in the front row, and we came out skipping and holding hands. It felt like the stars had aligned. But then the next day we were all on another plane going to another city to do another job.
Did you ever want to slow down?
CC I remember thinking, What am I going to do when I’m 25? Or 30? Or 40? We kept pushing the sell-by date.
Are you still gratified by the job now?
CC I’m not doing it every day anymore. At this point in my life I’ve done more photoshoots than I can count, so I like something new. I’ve had people say on a shoot, “This is so Helmut Newton,” and I think, No, not really. I knew Helmut. The part of modeling I like is telling a story with an image. Modeling is a skill, and you become better at it the more you do it. Understanding clothes and lights and your face and angles…you don’t lose that, even though other things come into your life.
More so than the others, you managed to brand yourself. Was that intentional or was it clever management?
CC In the beginning it was more like, why not? I’ll try MTV, that sounds cool. But my agents were telling me not to do it. They said I could make more money doing other jobs. But they were wrong, and House of Style opened a lot of doors. When I did Playboy, it was a big deal because I was also in Vogue. I trusted Herb Ritts, which is why I did it. So those things worked out in my favor, and it gave me the confidence to go and do other projects—but not everything worked out! I did a movie that was successful for me personally, but not successful in many other ways. Choosing to do my exercise video was the beginning of making deliberate choices to do my own projects that were authentic to me, and that led to my skin care line. That was a really hard decision, because I had been with Revlon for a long time. But it was time for me to do my own thing, and now it feels like I have a real business. I love that.
You’re a business tycoon!
CC I had my whole modeling career, which was about learning the business. For the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve been building a business.
But the businesswoman still knows what to do in front of the camera.
CC I’m a better model at 47 than I was when I was 22, although I wish I still had the body I had at 22! Ah, youth is wasted on the young.
When God created Gisele, he broke the mold. To be in her presence is to be intoxicated. That face, that body, the energy, the joy of life: They just don’t make ‘em like her. So, when WSJ. Magazine asked me to interview her for the cover of the Innovators issue, I said yes with the giddiness of a schoolboy who found his father’s stash of dirty magazines. I stopped by the shoot in LA when she was carooning with Daft Punk, who I could tell had big smiles on their faces even through their trademark masks. And afterward we shared a green juice and talked about how she went from a bombshell in a bra to the world’s most successful supermodel.
GISELE BÜNDCHEN MAYbe the most powerful model in the world—but that’s not what she prefers to call herself. “I’m self-employed,” says the 33-year-old Brazilian. “[Modeling has] always been a business.” This year, she topped ‘s list of highest-paid models for the seventh year in a row, beating out the likes of Kate Moss and Miranda Kerr by tens of millions of dollars. The magazine reported that she made $42 million, though she rolls her eyes at the figure. “Who are they speaking to when they come up with these numbers? Not my accountant, that’s for sure.” Whether the number strikes her as high or low, she leaves unsaid.
How did Bündchen, who was scouted at a shopping mall in her native Rio Grande do Sul when she was 14, rise from mere model to multiplatform business tycoon? Selectivity, she says. After becoming the most in-demand face and body on the runways of Paris and Milan in the late 1990s—in 1999, put her on the cover and declared “The Return of the Sexy Model”—she developed a knack for taking exactly the right steps in her career at exactly the right times.
High risk yields high reward, and nothing was more risky than her decision to sign with Victoria’s Secret in 2000, making her one of the first in her field to bridge the once-taboo divide between luxury fashion editorials and commercial work. It was a canny maneuver that proved light-years ahead of the rest of the fashion industry, though such high-low blurring has since become the norm. After Bündchen signed with Victoria’s Secret, it ballooned from a prosaic bra brand into a lingerie powerhouse with a world-famous fashion show—ultimately helping to net her a reported $25 million per year. (She wore the company’s famed Angel wings for the last time in 2007.) She inked lucrative deals with luxury brands such as Chanel and David Yurman. Anne Nelson, her agent since she was 17, says that in Brazil, “she is a god.”
These days, Bündchen is picky about which jobs she takes not because she’s cultivating an image but because of domestic obligations. In 2009, she married Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, and is now mother to Benjamin, 3, and Vivian, 8 months, and stepmother to Brady’s son, 6-year-old John Edward Thomas, from his previous relationship. “When you’re by yourself you only make decisions for yourself. But when you have a family, you’re making decisions for your whole family.” She now turns down multimillion-dollar jobs if they require her to leave the country or have obligatory personal appearance days in the contract.
When asked to describe how she manages the roles of wife, mother and supermodel, she offers a metaphor: Ginga, the basic back-and-forth swaying step of Brazilian martial art capoeira. “You’re always trying to balance everything, but it can’t be 100 percent all the time. Sometimes when you are a great mom, you’re not so great at your job. And then when you’re good at your job, you’re not so great of a mom or a good wife. It’s a dance that never stops. But it’s beautiful. I’ve never been happier.”
Bündchen’s packed days are meticulously organized on her iPhone with the Cozi app, which synchs the entire family schedule, from kids’ play dates to her press appointments to Brady’s football practices. Every single hour is accounted for and each family member is color-coordinated: She is purple, Brady is blue, and when the whole family needs to be at the same place, it’s in red. “I know what everyone is doing every second of the day,” says Bündchen.
Most mornings start around 6 a.m. Before heading either to her home office, where she works on her own fashion and accessories lines, or to a modeling job, she spends time with the children. (The couple has homes in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.) Vivian comes with her to photo shoots. “If I’m with my kids, I’m not answering my phone. You can’t reach me. With my husband, too. If I’m at work, then I’m at work. If I’m with you, I’m with you. I am in that moment, and there is nothing else.” The family prefers dinner at home, and Bündchen and Brady are rarely seen out at social occasions. One exception is the annual Met Costume Institute gala in New York City, where they are consistently one of the glossiest couples on the red carpet.
While work and family commitments dominate Bündchen’s schedule, she says her trick to keeping it together is her hour. “It’s important to me to have some time for myself. So one hour a day is mine. It may have to be at 4 a.m. or whenever the kids are napping or not home, but it’s in the schedule. I read a book. I meditate. I make something. I need to nourish myself in order for me to give to everyone else.”