Ford appears in the ad campaign with supermodel Lara Stone, whom he calls “graceful and striking, [possessing] an unusual and individual kind of beauty that is rare in today’s world.” His presence in the campaign sparked some conversation, whispers that wondered about the vanity of the man who inserts himself into his ads, but Ford is unapologetic. “I am a very practical and pragmatic person, and the reality is that I am in the ads because I am still in the phase of brand development where I need to make sure that people realize that there is an actual person behind the brand, designing literally everything that we make and creating the language of the brand,” he says. “I am not in the ads because I am vain. A lot of people still do not know who I am, and the product sells better with me in the ads, which we know from the men’s perfume ads that I have appeared in.”

Ford turned 50 in August, an event that tends to inspire men and women alike, regardless of status or profession, to pause for a moment of reflection. One might argue that Ford has been reflecting since his departure from Gucci in 2004, taking his time to build what he wanted to say as an artist of fashion or film. True to form, every step is on his own terms: His womenswear shows, which have shifted from New York to London, continue to be shrouded in secrecy, with photos not released until the clothes arrive in stores; he is likewise mum on his followup to A Single Man, though he does allow that by mid-summer 2012, “If I am lucky, we might also be talking about my next film.”

When Ford joined Gucci in 1990, it was a dusty brand that had been diluted in its perceived value by too much licensing. Quite simply, no one cared about the Italian label that had seen better days. By 2004, when he exited what had become the Gucci Group, the company was a global giant valued at $10 billion. The paramount reason for its monumental turnaround was rooted in the sensuous luxury that Ford brought to the mix. It’s telling that, after experiencing the stratospheric highs of Gucci’s 1990s golden era, the nonstop attention and frenzied, large-scale shows, Ford is both inspired by and content with the notion of building a brand that reaches new heights of luxury, but on a decidedly intimate level. Asked if he’d ever be interested in once again signing on as the creative director of a house built by someone else, Tom Ford’s answer is straightforward: “Why? Been there, done that. I have my own brand. Why would I need anything else?”

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