Tom Ford's Most Controversial Fashion Moments of All-Time

From shaving a "G" into a model's pubic hair for an ad to refusing to dress the First Lady, the celebrated designer has weathered his fair share of mini-scandals

By Tierney Bricker Aug 27, 2019 3:00 PMTags
Related: Why Tom Ford May Be Rethinking His Next Movie

Happy Birthday to the "King of Sex"!

No, we're not talking about Harry Styles after that Rolling Stone interview. We're, of course, talking about Tom Ford, the celebrated American designer and film director, who turns 58 years old on Aug. 27.

And one doesn't just land that nickname for no reason; ever since he came blazing onto the fashion scene in the '90s, Ford became one of the most celebrated and headline making designers thanks to his time at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent from 1994-2004, turning them into the fashion empires we know today before launching his own luxury brand in 2006.  

Given his impeccable taste and eye for the smallest of details, it's no wonder Ford's two films, A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, have been praised just as highly as his work as a designer, and fans have been anxiously awaiting news of his third film.

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Tom Ford's Most Controversial Fashion Moments of All-Time

But with the praise and accolades also comes some controversies, with the newly appointed Council of Fashion Designers of America Chairman weathering his fair share of them over the years—not many designers will personally shave their logo into the pubic hair of one of their models after all.

Relive some of Ford's biggest fashion controversies, including a gold-plated penis necklace, declining to dress the First Lady and more...

Equal Opportunity Objectification

After model Sophie Dahl infamously posed nude for YSL's Opium fragrance ad campaign in 2000, which was banned after becoming one of the most complained-about ads ever, critics called out Ford's tendency to feature naked women in his ads, a claim he refuted in an interview with The Guardian.

"I'm an equal opportunity objectifier – I'm just as happy to objectify men," he reasoned. "The thing is, you can't show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. We're very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men."

Proving his own point, Ford later featured a full-frontal nude male model in a 2002 fragrance ad (the first to ever do so), which was then pulled from publications following backlash. Ford defended it as "academic nude."

Unusual Logo Placement

In what is arguably Gucci's most controversial ad, Ford famously and personally shaved a "G" into a model's pubic hair for a 2004 image (even using an eyebrow pencil to add definition). 

The ad was quickly banned, but helped Ford establish his moniker as the "King of Sex," one he fully embraced. 

"You know what, if you don't like it, don't buy it," he told the Guardian. "Sensuality and sexuality is what drives so much."

The Penis Necklace

In 2014, Ford courted controversy when he added $800 gold plated necklaces to his line of jewelry, called the "penis pendant" necklace. The outcry was not over the price, but the pendant's alleged resemblance to a crucifix, which the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (an anti-gay group) took issue with. Because of course.

Ford responded by promoting the fact that the necklace comes in three sizes—small, medium and large—in a tweet. 

Going Viral

In March 2019, a quote from Ford calling Melania Trump "a glorified escort" made its way around the Internet. There was just one problem: it all came from a fake tweet that ended up making so much noise a spokesperson for Ford had to issue a statement on Twitter, writing, "This is an absolutely fabricated and completely fake quote that somehow went viral. Mr. Ford did not make this statement; it is completely false."

In an interview with WWD soon after the non-controversy, Ford once again denied the quote, saying, "Never! Never, ever, ever, have I said that Melania was an escort."

However, several years prior, Ford made headlines after he appeared on The View and revealed he had declined dressing the First Lady, explaining, "She's not necessarily my image." He later clarified he believed his clothes "too expensive" for any political figure to wear, telling Elle, "I don't think most women or men in our country can relate to that, and I think the First Lady or the President should represent all people."

Dramatic Exit From Gucci

After modernizing and revitalizing the brand from 1994-2004, Ford exited stage left after French billionaire Francois Pinault (Salma Hayek's husband) acquired Gucci and refused to give Ford the creative freedom he desired. His departure from the brand was one of the biggest bombshells to shake up the fashion industry that decade and the designer would later call that period of his life "devastating" and described it as "a midlife crisis" before starting his eponymous label.

It's a Lifestyle

Ford's particular and manicured lifestyle habits over the years have garnered attention, including that he takes 3-5 baths each day, weighs himself daily, does not own a pair of sweatpants and only lets his young son Jack wear "tacky" light-up sneakers on weekends (definitely not to school).

Oh, and he prefers not to be photographed (or go out really) during the day, telling the New York Times, "I don't like the middle of the day. Take a picture at noon, anywhere in the world. You're going to look like hell — hell. Everybody looks like hell. Unless you're 18, maybe, or under. Even then you don't look your best. I like daylight, but not to go out in public."

Honesty Is the Best Policy

He's also open about his use of Botox and fillers, telling the NY Times, "I've been open about using Botox and fillers, although I can move. You have to be very careful with it. I do it about once every eight months. When I go to the dermatologist, I get a hand mirror, I take a white pencil and I say, ‘Right there.' If I could do it myself, I would."

The New Chairman in Town

In March 2019, it was announced that Ford was set to succeed Diane von Furstenberg as the head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the not-for-profit trade association with over 450 American fashion and accessory designers as its members.

But back in 1996, he had this to say about his thriving career in an interview with The New York Times: "If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky. It's looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style."

Ford, who was born in Texas, sort of this addressed his previous sentiments about North American fashion on stage at the 2019 CFDA Awards, saying, "I've spent most of my career living and working in Europe, but I am an American fashion designer at heart."