Tom Ford was a shy 25-year-old when he met magazine editor Richard Buckley. It took him the length of an elevator ride to decide he wanted to marry him.
We did our Christmas shopping together one Saturday, and we spent almost every night together after our first few dates. It was probably a few days before we were saying things like, “I think I’m in love with you.” Now, we say it to each other every night before we go to sleep, and we say it at the end of every telephone conversation, and we write it at the end of every e-mail. Every time you think, I love you, I really believe you have to say it. If you think about holding their hand or kissing them, you do it. I do it all the time.
We both went home for Christmas, and when we came back, he gave me the key to his apartment and asked if I’d move in, and I did. We’d known each other barely a month. He’d lived with someone for three or four years, but it wasn’t really a serious relationship, and he was very consciously looking for that. He had come to that stage of his life at age 38, and I was at that stage at age 25, but we were both ready to settle down and fall in love and have a life with someone. I had slept with a lot of people and done my fair share of drinking and dancing and drugs. I’d had sex for the first time when I was 14. I had a girlfriend in high school who was pregnant twice while we were together. In those days, in the ’70s, abortion was considered a form of birth control, and I think in most high schools at the time, it was quite casual. I certainly wouldn’t do that if I were with someone today, even as a teenager, so I think it was a part of that era, and the casualness with which sex was treated on television. When you watch an old ’70s television show, everyone is just hopping into bed with everyone in a completely casual way. I think AIDS definitely changed it.
One of the very first people to be diagnosed with what was then called gay cancer, in 1981, was a friend of mine. It completely flipped me out, and from then on, I was extremely safe. It probably saved my life, but it damaged the way I think about sex forever. You just associated sex with death—or at least I did. Richard and I had three dates before we had sex, because my best friend was in the hospital, dying from AIDS, and Richard’s best friend was in the hospital, dying of AIDS. So we would have a date, and then he would go to the hospital, and I would go to the hospital; consequently, that was very much on our minds. There was still enormous fear, and that affected our early sexual relationship tremendously, as well as just watching very close friends die at the same time we were falling in love. If we made a list, I would say that half of our friends from the early ’80s are no longer with us. It continued into the early ’90s — it just didn’t stop.
Three years after we started living together, Richard was diagnosed with cancer and at the time was told that it was most likely going to be fatal. We’ve had a fair amount of personal family tragedy, and things happen that do, ultimately, bring you closer, because they’re things you go through together and they make your history richer.
Getting older together has been interesting because we’ve both changed. I was very quiet at the beginning of our relationship — I’m actually a very, extremely, almost pathologically shy person, which no one believes today, because I have also mastered a work/public facade that takes an enormous amount of energy to project. And Richard, when we first got together, was very, very social and very talkative. Richard is an extrovert, and I’m an introvert, but meeting us today you would think the opposite. Richard, now, often, can be quite quiet, especially if he knows you well. But if you get Richard at a party, he’s extremely animated. I actually hate parties, and I try not to go. I prefer dinner one-on-one or with four or six people.
One of the things that always amuses me — amuses isn’t even the right word, because it doesn’t amuse me — but often, I’m at dinner parties with very close friends, straight, and they realize that Richard and I have been together 24 years, and the response is often, “Wow, you guys have been together 24 years! That’s so amazing. I don’t think of gay men being together that long.” And I’m, like, “Why? What are you talking about?” Some of the longest relationships I know of are same-sex couples. A lot of my straight friends have married and divorced and married and divorced in the time Richard and I have been together. I think that preconception, from even very educated liberal friends, that being gay is possibly more sex-based than emotionally based, is surprising and shocking in today’s world. I’m someone who likes being part of a couple and always wanted that and always sought that, and it would probably be true for me whether I was gay or straight. Richard and I are bound together, and I think that’s what that recognition is when you look someone in the eyes and you feel like you’ve known them forever. It is a kind of coming home.
Richard Buckley, Writer:
After three and a half years in Paris, I moved back to New York to be the editor of a new Fairchild magazine called Scene. On my fourth day back in town, I attended the show of a young designer called David Cameron. As I was waiting for the show to begin (it was held in a loft), I noticed a guy standing in the crowd off to the side and thought, Cute. Definitely cute. When the show was over, I sat in my seat, fiddling with my pens and my notebook, until I saw his camel coat out of the corner of my eye. I hopped up and started to walk out with him. Like I said, we were in a loft, and the quickest way out was by the stairs. As we walked, I would look over at him from time to time and smile. He’d give me a weak smile back. This went on until we hit the street, when I swear he sprinted away from me.
Fast-forward 10 days, and I am up on the roof of the Fairchild building on 12th Street doing a hideous shoot for WWD when Owen, the art director, asked if I had a boyfriend.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“No. I haven’t even been out since I’ve been back.”
“Why is that?”
“I’ve been away for three and a half years, I have two jobs, and I’ve got to get back into the work rhythm of New York. I don’t want any distractions.”
“Hasn’t there been someone you’ve thought of asking out?”
At that point, I told him about this guy I’d seen at David Cameron’s fashion show and how he’d disappeared. Literally two minutes later, Harry, from the photo lab, came up on the roof and said, “There’s some guy here from Cathy Hardwick to pick up clothes.” It was then that the guy from the fashion show stepped onto the roof.
I turned to Owen and said, “That’s him.”
“You mean — ”
I went over and told the young man I could give him all the clothes except for the dress we were going to photograph, most likely, for a cover. I took him down in the elevator to the WWD floor. The whole time down in the elevator I was babbling on like a schoolgirl. It is at this point, when telling this story, that I like to put my hands up to my head and wiggle my fingers like eyelashes. I was shamelessly flirting with this boy. He, meanwhile, said nothing, and the quieter he was, the sillier I became. As I was bagging the clothes up in the fashion closet, I told him, “Tomorrow night, Cathy is giving me a ‘welcome back to New York’ dinner at her apartment.” I was hoping he’d mention it to her, and Cathy, who is no dummy in the gay department, would invite him to the dinner.
The next night, the dinner was wonderful, but the young man wasn’t there. After dinner I took Cathy aside and asked, “Who is your assistant?”
“No, not Tova, a really cute guy.”
“His real name is Tom, but I call him Tender.” At the time, Cathy was married to a man called Tom Snowden. She said she had to distinguish between her two Tom turkeys, so one was Tough (her husband) and the other (Ford) was Tender.
Like I said, there was never any moss growing on Cathy, and she immediately said, “He’s perfect for you. Come for lunch on Monday. I’ll arrange the whole thing.”
Apparently, when she came in the next morning, Cathy yelled, “Tender, get in here!” She told him, “Richard Buckley, the fashion editor of Women’s Wear Daily and editor of Scene, wants to go out with you. He’s very important. We need him. You take my credit card and go anywhere he wants to go.”
On Monday, it was pouring rain, and I arrived at the Cathy Hardwick offices thinking we would be going out to a restaurant. No. We had tomato soup and bologna sandwiches in her office. Halfway through lunch, Tom got up and said he needed to get back to work. At this point I’m thinking, I’m 38 and he’s 25. He’s not into geezers. Three strikes, you’re out.
I had been back in my office about 10 minutes when the phone rang.
“This is Tom Ford from Cathy Hardwick. I was calling to see if I could ask you out for a drink or dinner some evening.”
I was totally thrown off guard, because I was starting to think he was a stuck-up little prick, so I said, “Well, tonight and tomorrow night I have business dinners. Wednesday evening I leave for the country and Thanksgiving weekend. What about a week from Wednesday?” He said that was fine. Then we stayed on the phone for a few minutes and he actually started talking to me, and I thought, He’s not stuck-up at all. Finally I said, “Look, the dinner tomorrow night is tentative. If it is canceled, can I call you at the last minute?” He said, “Sure.”
Well, that was an adrenaline-charged 24 hours for me, because I had no business dinners, no Thanksgiving in the country. Nothing. Nada. At 4:23 Tuesday afternoon I called him, said dinner had fallen through, and asked if he was still free.
For our first date, we went to this really sleazy cheapo restaurant on the Upper East Side called Albuquerque Eats — I don’t think it exists anymore. Tom sat there chit-chatting: “And in 10 years I’m going to be showing my own collection in Paris, and I’m going to be a millionaire, and I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” And I kept thinking, This guy is really naïve. But as we talked about other things, it was almost like seeing down a rabbit hole. I felt like I was looking at his eyes, and it was just spinning around and taking me down inside him. I could see he was a good man with a big heart. It wasn’t a physical thing as much as it was a psychic wave.
I’d been through a lot of relationships and was very suspicious of a lot of things, but with Tom I was careful not to repeat the mistakes I’d made with other guys. I’d been burned many times and had learned to keep people at arms’ length. And on New Year’s Eve 1986, we didn’t go out. We stayed at my little apartment on Saint Mark’s Place. I gave him a little Tiffany box, and inside was a key to my apartment. He moved in the next day.
Tom’s the perfect modern gentleman. We’re both old-fashioned that way. We both stand for ladies at the table and open doors for people. If you have good manners, people notice. And they appreciate it. You’re showing respect for them. When I got throat cancer in ’89, there were people who Tom cut out of our lives because of the way they responded. My best friend and one of my mentors had died — one in ’87 or ’88 and one later that year — both from AIDS, and there were a lot of people who just assumed that I had AIDS, and there were some people who wouldn’t come visit me because they were sure they would catch it. And Tom just cut them out — wouldn’t even speak to them if he ran into them on the street.
I couldn’t imagine being without Tom now. I couldn’t imagine what I’d be like if something happened to him. There’s only one Tom for me. He is still that man who I met 24 years ago, who has a good heart.
Story credit: Out Magazine