Tag Archives: Liberace

Through the eyes of Tom Ford: Pride 2014

26 Jun
Tom Ford by Helmut Newton

Photograph by Helmut Newton. Published in Vogue, March 1999.

With Toronto hosting World Pride this year, I feel that much more inspired to celebrate the powerful gay icons that have shaped our world. I spotlighted Freddie Mercury in 2012, Liberace in 2013, and for 2014, the focus is on the clothing, detail, luxury, and the daring of Tom Ford.

Tom Ford is a man who personifies BOLD not only in his clothing designs but in his business dealings. Before launching his own menswear label in 2007, he spent ten years as Creative Director for Gucci and brought them from near bankruptcy to $3 billion a year in sales. He is aligned with Estee Lauder for the Tom Ford Beauty Brand, and he counts 98 retail Tom Ford stores in the world among many other achievements.

American Vogue‘s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, says Ford has an uncanny way of conveying the same three core themes: sex, power, and divine decadence. “I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone with a greater passion for detail or a clearer vision of his aesthetic goals,” she says.

Ford is a powerhouse of talent that goes beyond fashion design. In 2009, he directed and co-wrote the screenplay for  A Single Man, a tale of gay angst in the early 1960s, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. I recommend it; it’s tasteful and interesting, but tragic.  Ford’s debut film won many awards and Firth received an Oscar nomination for best actor.

He is incredibly talented and successful; a billionaire with enormous power in the fashion industry, and audacious as all hell. Tom Ford does what he wants and he does it well, otherwise he wouldn’t carry clients like Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig. Yet with all that going for him, with all the success and power and wealth, Tom Ford remains human.

Images of beauty 

Ford studied architecture before he turned to fashion and understands how to build things. He uses geometry in his designs and creates sensuous lines and angles in magnificent, often textured, deeply coloured fabrics in his menswear collections.

He seems to have an inborn sense of balance and opulence and learned about fashion through his mother and grandmother. “My mother was very chic, very classic,” he recalls in an interview with Biography. “My paternal grandmother was very stylish in a very Texas way—everything big and flashy, from jewelry to cars.”

Tom Ford jackets

Note the gorgeous geometry of Ford’s jacket lapels and the sumptuous fabrics and colours.

“The images of beauty you get in your childhood stick with you for life,” Ford explains, “So there’s a certain flashiness at Gucci—Texas-inspired—with a certain Western feel.”

When asked if Texas has influenced his designs, Ford tells FDLuxe,  “I have certain notions of glamour that I never lost… I like a heel on a boot. I feel better with a heel. That Texas taste—big hair and a lot of makeup—was my first notion of beauty. And I have to say, to this day, I still have a thing for big hair.”

The big, bold, and flashy was woven into Ford’s designs for Gucci and used in his own menswear line. The casual luxury of his Western-inspired spring/summer 2015 collection is comprised of suede jackets with tasselled sleeves, jeans, denim shirts, and jean jackets–a far cry from his iconic suits and shirts, dapper enough for 007 himself.

“What we wanted to do was to expand sportswear so that our customer has something to wear for every occasion of his life,” he says of the collection.

Ford uses bold and unexpected colour in his menswear collections, and in his current men’s line, pink, lilac, and ocean blue jackets are paired with white shirts and trousers. Coming up for fall/winter 2014, blacks, greys, creams, and earthy colours mixed in with  beautiful violets and royal blues in cotton-silk Jacquard and velvet cocktail jackets.

Tom Ford the human

Despite what we might think a billionaire designer who caters to high-end clients like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Drake might be like, Tom Ford is a regular person.

I spoke to former model, Patrick Marano, now husband and manager to gay media mogul, Shaun Proulx, who posed for a 2005 Tom Ford sunglasses campaign.

“The shoot was in L.A. Poolside,” Marano recalls, “At the break Tom came and ate with us. He was very down-to-earth and friendly. And of course he looked great, impeccably dressed.”

Ford is a real person; he’s sensitive and romantic, and he loves to be in love and be in a relationship:”I’m someone who likes being part of a couple and always wanted that and always sought that,” he says, “And it would probably be true for me whether I was gay or straight.”

When Ford saw his long-term partner, Richard Buckley, the former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Hommes International, at a fashion show in 1986, it was love at first sight. More than twenty-five years along, Ford and Buckley married this past spring and welcomed their son, Alexander John Buckley Ford (Jack), into the world in 2012. Ford has proved to be a devoted partner and father.

“I feed Jack, I dress him, I change his diaper, and I have a good two or three hours with him every morning, just me and him.” Ford says, “At night, again, I put him to bed and try to spend as much time with him as possible.”

Though it may be unbelievable, our superstar designer changes diapers, cooks, and unless he’s travelling, gets home each night to feed Jack. Now that he’s raising a child, his perspective of the world has changed. In particular, he no longer receives Botox injections, saying, “A lot of things I cared about before I don’t care as much about anymore.”

It’s refreshing that a superstar like Tom Ford understands his limited relevance and shelf-life. “No matter how hard you try there is a cultural moment, but eventually that window’s gone, your time on Earth is finished, and you might as well leave,” he says, “I could absolutely die tomorrow–I would not care. I feel like I’ve lived, I feel like I’ve had a great life.”

Tom Ford‘s style advice:

  • A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.
  • At home, off-duty, I wear T-shirts from Fruit of the Loom but I have them tailored – if the sleeves are cut over the tricep your arms look much better.
  • Keep your jacket buttoned. Always. It’s just really flattering – it will take pounds off you.

 

Velvet

29 Aug
16th C Italian velvet

16th Century Italian velvet

With lots of clothing choices for this fall, gents, you’ll be happy to see cloth coats in interesting fabrics for sale, among them, velvet, a textile that has influenced world economics and differentiated social classes.

Velvet, a term that comes from the Latin “vellus” – fleece or tufted hair, can be woven from many textiles, but the first was made of silk. “It is now a general belief [that silk velvet] arrived in Italy for the first time from the Far East, transported by Arab merchants, and was then spread throughout Europe… by the merchants from Lucca, Venice, Florence, and Genoa.” (Source)

Wool and linen were the most common fabrics in Europe but the introduction of silk and other fancy stuffs gave more variety to clothing. During the Middle Ages, men’s clothing was fairly uniform across society, but what divided the classes was fabric. Velvet was such a special textile that sometimes the number of velvet garments was limited and regulated by state and church laws. Silk  velvet created enormous fortunes for bankers and merchants of Italian city states, it clothed armies, and drove a wedge between classes. 

“The enormous Italian output of satins, velvets, taffetas and other silk textiles satisfied the taste for luxury in costume of a considerable class, composed at first of patrician and feudal noble society, then all for the wealthy throughout Europe,” wrote Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Velvet Usage

Velvet may not hold paint well, but that didn’t stop artists to paint Elvis on starting in the 70s.

Velvet has been worn for centuries by royalty and the nobility, by operatic stars in Verdi and Rossini works, it is the curtain that has risen in every theatre,  it has adorned modern artists like Liberace and even Rod Stewart who said, “Carrying 200 pounds of velvet and satin around a stage for 90 minutes – that’s man’s work, let me tell you.” Velvet can be made into home furnishings like pillows, drapes, upholstery, and rugs, and velvet has even been used as a painting surface.

Velvet became more common place with textile technologies to be consumed by people of good taste in all economic groups. Original velvets were made of silk, but velvet can be made of virtually any textile, including synthetics. Probably the most common velvet found today is cotton, including all of the wonderful velvet jackets available this fall for men.

Velvet Care

If you already own velvet or if you plan to purchase a velvet garment, think of velvet as the suede of textiles – it is something of a challenge to clean and maintain, so handle it gently.

Velvet is velvet not because of its content, but because of its weave. Velvet is considered a pile weave, similar to corduroys or velveteens, and even the terry cloth that your bath towels are made of. All of these fabrics have looped threads – your towel’s threads are uncut loops, but the pile fabrics like velvet are cut.

There are lots of fancy velvets like Cisele velvet, a fabric woven with cut and uncut loops that form a pattern, Faconne  has velvet patterns woven into a flat base, and Panne is a pressed velvet. Plush velvet, used in upholstery, won’t crush as easily under our weight, but velvet typically used for modern clothing is going to be a soft cotton velvet with longer cut loops (known as “transparent” velvet).

Though velvet is a rich, gorgeous fabric, it should be worn with care. In the modern era, we don’t have the luxury of lolling about on thrones and court couches in our velvets, so we generally wear velvet in the evening when there is less wear and tear. The longer the cut loops, the more susceptible the velvet is to crushing – this is the danger of wearing velvet and why it is usually worn at night when things like heavy laptop cases aren’t slung over the shoulder to ruin the shoulder of your jacket – it is very difficult to raise the pile of the velvet once it has been flattened. More expensive velvets will have crush-proof finishes added to them, but generally, the pieces you find in stores will not be made of a high-end finished fabric, so wear with care.

The best way to care for velvet is to not put any pressure on it, but if it has been crushed, there are a couple of ways to try to resurrect the pile (but there are no guarantees):

  • Hang in a steamy bathroom and brush pile with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush may work if you don’t lean into it – brush lightly to raise the pile);
  • For small areas, lay the fabric face down over the bristles of a clean, flat hairbrush or an unused shoe brush and steam (the trick is to keep the pile “suspended” and not pressing into any surface);
  • Lastly, remember that velvet is dry clean only.

Now that I’ve put the fear into you, wear your velvets in high style but keep a bubble of air around you so as not to damage your pile! 

Liberace!

20 Jun

My grandmother loved Liberace. liberace1

He was on TV a lot when I was a kid in the 70s, and every time he was on a variety show,  she would sit glued to the set.

She loved his sparkling costumes, the jewelry, the furs, and of course, his ivory-tinkling (he was an extremely talented pianist).  I don’t remember her talking about him so I never got to find out what it was about this rouged and sequined piano player that drew her attention so much.

But when I was in high school, I had a grand-daughterly deja vu with a flamboyant musician myself, so I understood where she was coming from.

I immediately fell in love when I heard Culture Club’s Time (Clock of the Heart) on the radio in 1981, and for the next few years, I had Boy George’s face plastered all over my bedroom walls. There was something about him that I was hopelessly drawn to – his individuality, his creativity, and the courage to be himself. But surely, I was attracted to him, he was a man after all… but something was amiss.

My love of Boy George confused me, just like my grandmother’s attraction to Liberace – we both had rigid gender roles stuffed down our throats, and any behaviour that strayed from what was “normal” for men and for women was suspect – illegal, in fact, during my grandmother’s era – but these were entertainers and they were allowed to be a little “eccentric”.

Though publicly closeted, Liberace was the first gay man to have his own TV show, he starred in movies, he was raking in $50,000 a week at the Riviera in Las Vegas, and he sold millions and millions of records. Women adored him.

He wore outrageous costumes for a man a the time – hell, even for a woman at the time – and I wonder if his female fan following had to do with a mutual love of glitz and girlish glamour.

Liberace red cape

The American Fashion Foundation called him the best-dressed man in show business back in the day,  and apparently, our  Mr. Showmanship  modeled himself after 19th century Bavarian King Ludwig II,  a suspected gay man and patron of Wagner. To me, Liberace was more like a fabulous, flamboyant papal drag queen complete with dainty gold slippers and flowing robes.

Liberace’s tremendous wealth enabled him to surround himself in homes decorated in Rococo style, high-end cars, and custom-made pianos. He wore the most elaborate, heavily sequined, plumed, and embroidered costumes, encrusted with diamond buttons and pounds of Swarovski rhinestones. Even his shoes were custom-made to match his outfits.

Detail of a Liberace costume – hand-sewn sequins and beading

He was a costume designer’s dream and commissioned a new wardrobe every year. In a 1982 interview, Michael Travis, Liberace’s costume designer during the late 70s and early 80s,  said of Liberace, “There’s nothing he will not do. He’s very flexible.”

The article describes Liberace’s most expensive outfit ever – a $300,000, 137-pound shimmering fox fur with a 16-foot train worn over a bejeweled tuxedo valued at $50,000.

“Every time he plays to a new audience he wants to see what he can shock them with,” Travis said.

And shock he did, much to the delight of his femme-heavy fan base.

Cape inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus?

People don’t realize how Liberace inspired many entertainers of our modern era. I can see how he may have inspired Prince who liked to wear ruffled shirts under sequined satin suits and heeled boots. Rob Lowe, who plays Dr. Jack  Startz,  Liberace’s plastic surgeon, in the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, says of Liberace,  “He invented bling. Like the rappers of today wouldn’t be wearing or doing anything of what they’re doing without Liberace first.”

He was a true original and fantastically talented man who sadly denied his sexuality to his grave. It is through him that my grandmother’s gaydar found its glow, and I am pleased to have inherited it.

Happy Pride 2013!

Liberace links:

This short TIME video will make you smile.

Interview with Behind the Candelabra costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick.

Take a virtual tour of the (now closed) Liberace museum in Las Vegas. 

Learn about the sets, props, and costumes from the 2013 HBO special, Behind the Candelabra, in this video.