Peter Hawkings, the recently appointed creative director of Tom Ford, cuts a dashing figure in a crisp ivory suit, possibly the most pristine white v-neck tee I have ever clapped eyes on, and tinted aviator shades (I forgot to ask if they were prescription, or simply sunglasses) when we meet at the brand’s London HQ in early September. He was, until his appointment in April, an almost entirely unknown figure, but that is all set to change when Hawkings makes his debut this Thursday in Milan with his Tom Ford show at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio.
Understandably, Hawkings, 49, was pretty tight-lipped about what he was actually going to present, not wanting to spoil it. “Stop digging, Mark!” he said, laughing, when I tried for the umpteenth time to get a sliver of info about the collection. Yet what is apparent is his absolute joy at following in the footsteps of a designer (and a good friend) he reveres, and a brand he loves. (And to show his support, Ford will be at the show.)
Of course, Hawkings’s connection to Tom Ford—the man and the brand—goes way back: He has only ever worked for Ford, designing menswear, first at Gucci, and then at his namesake label, starting some 25 years ago. Hawkings also met his wife, Whitney Bromberg—nowadays better known as the founder and CEO of Flowerbx—at Gucci (back then she was Ford’s senior vice president of communications). The couple have now been married for 18 years and have three children: sons Barron, 15, and Snowdon, 13, and daughter Wallis, 7.
Something else Hawkings is readying himself for in his new role: Having to talk about his work. This was to be his first interview, and I am not sure who was more nervous—me or him. On reflection, perhaps the former: Hawkings is charming, down to earth, and with a keen sense of humor. He might have wanted to keep schtum about his debut, but otherwise, he had plenty to say.
Vogue: Talk me through how you see Tom Ford—your Tom Ford?
Peter Hawkings: Obviously it’s a huge responsibility to move the brand forward while respecting Tom and the legacy that he’s created. I worked with Tom for 25 years—so many of his codes and design references have become ingrained in me. I’ve used that to create my own codes—of glamour, sexiness, elegance, and beauty. What’s really important as well is to have the men’s and the women’s collections closer together—for them to be unified.
When you mention your vision, I’m assuming those four linchpins you mentioned are part of it. They’ve also been part of Tom’s vision. How do you plan to tweak them, make them yours?
I built the men’s. Tom was very gracious—he let me run with it—and that’s what I’m doing again, in a certain sense. There are codes that I’ve built into the menswear—it’s like a club: Obviously the handmade buttonhole on the lapel, the 18 hours of hand work, the obsession with details—and that’s what I wanted to give to the women’s.
The women’s, under Tom, had a fabulous bravura quality—whatever vibe Tom was feeling that season—while I always thought the men’s, perhaps by dint of who it was aimed at, felt rather more unchanging.
Absolutely—100 percent. That’s what I wanted to do with the menswear, and that’s exactly what I want to do with the womenswear: for it to evolve, not go crashing from one place to another, to another, to another. That continuity—that consistency of understanding who the man and the woman are—that’s very important to me.
I do think we can get a bit exhausted by trend after brutal trend—and we saw the whole embrace of quiet, Succession luxury. Do luxury brands perhaps need some stabilizing—maybe that’s the wrong word, but maybe an image for your customer that’s less constantly changing?
Exactly—that’s it. For me, it’s a question of drumming home a message and keeping some consistency. Otherwise, people are like, What is this? Where are you? Who are you? Where are you going? The branding, the imagery, the Instagram, the website—the whole world it should speak to—should have some kind of continuity. It’s about dressing the man and the woman, both on the red carpet and in real life. This Tom Ford couple is quality-obsessed, unafraid of being the most glamorous pair in any room, and supremely confident in their style, their look, and their beauty. Historically, the Tom Ford man wasn’t the one that would naturally be paired with the Tom Ford woman, but my hope is that we bring these two worlds closer together so they coexist visually and ideologically together.
In terms of crystallizing the image of womenswear, who are you talking to? Whitney [Hawking’s wife]? People inside or outside the office?
Both—friends, though Whitney is my number one: She’s my rock, my everything. It helps, I guess, that she was Tom’s right hand for 20 years and has lived all of this before. I’m also incredibly lucky to have an amazing team who are as obsessed with quality, luxury, details, and modernity as I am. On my men’s team, Christopher Rawstron is my right hand and has been amazing and such a support—as has all my team. We push each other, and it’s so healthy. I think it’s really great. I never want to be surrounded by “yes” people. It’s really important to me that Whitney’s honest with me, my team is honest with me, and I’m honest with them. I’m not dictatorial. I’m also super grateful and happy to be working with Marie Chaix, the stylist. She challenges me in a good way and makes me look at things in a new way, which is invaluable—to have someone who pushes you out of your comfort zone.
How’s she doing that for you?
Marie encourages me to take an idea and keep pushing it to the max—while I might feature a specific look in one or two exits on the runway, she helps drive the idea home by repetition in different colors and fabrics. She’s very professional, but also very militant [laughs] about editing and taking away as much, if not more, than she’s adding on.
Marie’s an interesting collaborator, because she’s not an obvious choice. She has a rigor to her work, but I don’t equate it with the world of Tom Ford.
There needed to be a change. Her eye is very interesting, and without me even saying—before she even came into actually working with the clothes and the brand—she just got it. We were on the phone with each other and she was sending me images, inspiration, ideas, and we were both completely on the same page. You never know when you first start working with someone—obviously it can go one way or the other—but we are building a great working relationship.
So talk to me, Peter, about how you’re going to show the collection. Obviously Tom had a very specific, and I thought very cinematic, way of showing his collections—the whole in-the-spotlight thing—ever since Gucci.
I loved the glamour of that—and I hope that in this show there is a nod of that. This season, one of my inspirations was Donyale Luna, the first black supermodel (Editor’s note: A new documentary Donyale Luna: Supermodel is now available on HBO.) She was a muse to Warhol and to Avedon, who photographed her constantly and became her manager. I am fascinated by her mysteriousness and her masterful control over her body—and the way she owns anything she wears in her unique way. She is feline, mysterious, supremely elegant, and has a covert but undeniable sexiness in her ’70s glamour which I have tried to capture in the casting, the cut, the fabrics, the attitude of the models, and the general mood of the show.
Of course, there’s also the spotlight that will fall on you with your debut. How are you preparing for that—the move from backstage to center stage?
It’s funny, because whilst it’s also new, it feels like a natural evolution for both the brand and for me. And whilst the pressure is huge, I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my entire life. I have been lucky enough to learn from one of the biggest brand-builders of our time, and I’m excited to use that when creating my own vision.
Why was showing in Milan important to you?
It felt like a natural choice. In a sense it’s like returning to the beginning, where I started my career with Tom at Gucci. But more importantly, Italy to me symbolizes unparalleled craftsmanship and quality—in leather goods, in tailoring, in accessories.
I want to ask you about the whole notion of sex and sexiness—it’s obviously something we associate a lot with Tom and his work, both with Gucci and with his own label.
That’s always been in the DNA, hasn’t it, of Tom Ford. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I absolutely want to embrace that when pushing the brand forward. At the end of the day, desire is what makes the world go round, and Tom Ford is synonymous with desire. That said, sexiness is subjective, and my vision of sexiness is going to be probably more subtle than Tom’s.
I was interested to read in The Guardian recently a piece about the new Yorgos Lanthimos movie Poor Things, starring Emma Stone, and the reaction to its many explicit sex scenes—the piece talked about younger generations being more comfortable than ever with showing skin, but less approving of depictions of sex that they might feel are gratuitous….
Being married to an amazingly strong woman, and having a daughter, it’s very important to me—obviously—the respect of women. As Beyonce says, they should actually run the world! Coming back to nudity, or exposure: If it’s done on their terms, and they’re in control of that, that should make a woman feel powerful and in control. To me, it is vital to make a woman feel confident. If she feels confident, she feels sexy. My goal is to empower women by helping them look and feel their absolute best.
Of course, you’re designing for men too, so we shouldn’t just be thinking about the idea of sex and sexiness as it pertains to women—will there be synergy between your women and men? Tom certainly liked a smoldering kind of vibe….
He did—and I feel like there’s been a disconnect, to be honest with you, because Tom was in LA, with a women’s team that I never saw, designing a women’s collection, and I was based here in London designing the men’s collection, checking in with Tom twice a season. Tom trusted me just to get on with it, which is great—but when it came to showtime, the disconnect between everything being done over in LA and everything being done in London, the men’s shoehorned into women’s, with the outfits and the vision of what I was doing in men’s changed to work with the women’s… that wasn’t my view at all. So bringing the Tom Ford man and the Tom Ford woman together is going to really help me create a unified aesthetic—and that makes me just feel so good inside, because it’s what I’ve wanted to do. I’m really excited to create those clothes where the image of the woman in my head is standing next to my man. Does that make sense?
Because there were so many women—I won’t tell you exactly who—back in the day when I was designing men’s who were like, Oh, I really wish you did what you do for men’s for women’s.
And your debut comes at a time when so many younger designers are riffing on Tom’s work….
Tom’s Gucci woman continues to have a huge influence, because his look at the time was so new and so modern; it has lasting relevance.
Let’s talk about you taking on this new role. It looked from the outside that Tom decided to step away from his brand and you were the heir apparent. Was that how it was?
In November, I got a phone call out of the blue from Tom, and he dropped this massive bombshell—that he was selling the company—and it was like a big encyclopedia landing on the desk. I honestly never, ever thought that Tom would ever sell. I thought he would be one of the Ralph Laurens of the world and continue and continue. So he dropped that bombshell—and then the second bombshell was that he was putting me forward for creative director. I was speechless. That night and the following night, I just didn’t sleep. Whitney didn’t either. I was like, Are you awake? And she’s like, Yeah—you awake? Yep. But when the nerves subsided, I realized that I was being given an amazing opportunity—and I and the team haven’t looked back. There hasn’t been time, to be honest. It’s just been go, go, go, go.
What’s your story about working with Tom? I know you started, what, about 25 years ago at Gucci.
Working for Tom was my first job out of Central Saint Martins. I was obsessed. I tailored my portfolio towards Tom at Gucci. I started as a menswear designer, head down, and worked my way up. And then Tom called me for Tom Ford menswear. I was employee number two after Whitney, who’s employee number one. And I basically started with a blank sheet of white paper, literally. Tom was very gracious. He was great. He let me get on with it, and I held the role of senior vice president of men’s design at Tom Ford until now, basically.
To go back further, when did you get interested in fashion?
I always had a thirst and an obsession for glamour and beauty, and I think that was driven by my mother. I’m from near Tunbridge Wells. My mother was a nurse and my father was a builder. My mother was always very glamorous and really cared about what she looked like, what we looked like as a family, how we were perceived. I remember her buying Yves Saint Laurent Vogue patterns—those patterns on that really ugly brown tissue paper. [Laughs] And she used to find these amazing antique fabrics and trims and things like that, and she was always on the sew. She could whip these things up just like that—these amazing ’60s, ’70s outfits—and the big hair and that glamour. She was always very well turned-out, and that really had an impact on me. She was also the one who taught me how to draw, how to paint. It was clear that I would pursue a career in the arts. I did a foundation course in art in Brighton—Kim Jones was there at the same time—and then from there I did a degree at Middlesex University, graduated with first degree honors, and then approached the infamous Louise Wilson [the brilliant and legendarily salty professor of fashion design at art school Central Saint Martins].
Oh my gosh. What was your interview like?
It was brilliant. She was sitting there—I mean, you knew her—and she’s brilliant. She’s got a chocolate muffin on the table, munching away at it, talking at you at the same time, bits of the muffin coming out, flying everywhere. And I loved her—just the way she was, no bullshit at all. It was just excellent. And I said to her—because at that point I was broke as a joke; I was working in Liberty [the London department store] selling menswear—“I hear you give scholarships out.” And she stared down at me, and she’s like, “I don’t give them out. I choose who I give them to.” She clearly liked me or my work or thought there was potential there. She did give me a scholarship, for which I have to thank for my career. And so I did my master’s at St. Martins. And then I think it was probably the glamour of my mother and those ’60s, ’70s outfits and the way she looked that attracted me to what Tom was doing then at Gucci. It just felt like a natural fit.
How was your interview with Tom to work at Gucci?
I had had an interview with John Ray [former head of Gucci menswear], who I adore and who I learned so much from. He really brought out a hell of a lot in me, exposed me to amazing elegance and chic things. He clearly liked me and my work, and he said, “I’d love you to go over and see Tom.” Got on the Eurostar, which was quite new then, to visit Tom at his offices in Paris. I took all my portfolios and this and that and the other. And Tom was very gracious—he looked through everything, he walked through everything. I don’t think he was interested, honestly, in my work, if I’m being super honest. I think that he thought that I was attractive, so he liked that. But he went through the motions, let’s say. He was very polite—he is always very polite, Tom. And then he closed the book and he said, “I think you’re going to really enjoy working with John.” And I was like, “Sorry?” And he said, “Yeah—we’d love to hire you. You got the job.” I was just on cloud nine on the Eurostar going home, staring out the window, not actually believing that I’d got the job. And 25 years later I was still with him.
What are some of your favorite moments of your time with him? What were some of the things that were particularly—
Oh my goodness—so many great moments with Tom: All the shows we used to do, the energy that used to be there at Gucci, Kevin Krier [the late fashion show producer], and putting those looks together. Working on the collections with him. Tom was very… he always let you come to the table with ideas, and challenged John and I when we were in fittings. And I paid attention to what he was doing, and to his taste level. Which is why, when I came here, I knew him so well. He could leave me to it because I’m like, “No—Tom would like that like that; he wouldn’t like that like that.” That kind of trust and knowledge.
What was the first collection you worked on with him?
Spring/summer 1999. It was a great collection. When I went to the show for the first time, I was like, “Fuck—how am I going to follow that?” But it was a total eye-opener for me, coming from doing a master’s into the real world. They don’t prepare you for that at Central Saint Martins and those kinds of places—there’s a lot of building you up, like shit doesn’t stick to you, and you think you’re so amazing. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. And it’s a serious one.
What about the advice that Tom gave you—does anything stand out?
One brilliant piece of advice, and I’ve always stuck to it: Never hire anyone you don’t want to go and have dinner with. It’s a brilliant one. Because the reality is, I spend most of my life in this office working with my team. And I love them like my family—they mean the world to me. Creating that environment is vitally important, because I can’t stand egos in the office. And I think that piece of advice is so true—you should feel like you want to hang out with the people that you work with. I’m here more than I am at home with my family.
Speaking of family, how has it been for you and them adjusting to this new role? Whitney obviously has her own business, Flowerbx, and you have three kids….
Whitney’s absolutely amazing. I could not be more lucky, honestly. She’s the CEO of her own brand. but the support she gives me—in fact, she makes me lunch and dinner to bring here every day—is unbelievable. She is just a force of nature. And she’s been balancing everything so amazingly for us as a family. The kids are so sweet as well, and so supportive, and understand, obviously, what’s going on, and super involved.
Are the kids coming to the show?
I would love them to come to the show, but I can’t pull them out of school.
I’m sure you have been working 24/7 for the last few months, but I know you and Whitney are also super-committed, hands-on parents—what are you doing to spend time away from work?
We just came back from a few weeks on a remote island in Greece, which was restful and restorative—it’s so important to rest and recuperate and recharge the batteries before the show and what’s ahead. And we visited the Parthenon and the temple beside it. It was so inspiring—the attention to detail and the craftsmanship and the symmetry. It’s mind-blowing, to be honest with you.
Also, seeing something that has been around for so long is a reminder that we are a speck in this infinitesimal world….
Yes—it takes you out of that self-absorption of what I’m doing, what I’m going through, all the rest of it. It was very healthy; it was heaven. And then, obviously I exercise every day.
What do you like to do?
I go to the gym, and I run to the gym, and I run home from the gym. Early, early, early. I like to get to the gym early, so I can get back home and walk Wallis to the school bus, and have that moment with her as well. But exercise and food and diet are important for endurance—and fashion. Fashion’s an endurance sport, isn’t it?
And once you’ve finished running that marathon to your first show in Milan, what happens?
To be honest with you: It’s going to be raising a glass with Whitney and my team, and thanking everyone. And then it’s back to work. It’s literally right back to work.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com
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