Home to an Urbane Cowboy
Published: June 2009
By Heather Smith MacIsaac
New York, L.A., Paris, London, Milan . . . Santa Fe? Gucci designer Tom Ford has a house or apartment in all of the above, but it's only the last that he calls home.
As the creative director of Gucci, Tom Ford circulates in a world that is high style, high profile, and, well, frequently high on itself. But while fashion is all about surfaces, Santa Fe reaches into the depths—in its history, its landscape, and, certainly, its architecture. Ford's adobe house, built in the sixties by his grandmother, is three bricks thick. "That's thirty-six inches," says Ford. "In a building like this, you really know when you've walked through a doorway." And in a house like this, Ford, who is always on the move, feels the roots of home. "My work requires constant travel, and my family lives all over. But in Santa Fe, I've been standing in the same room looking out the same window with a view of the Sangre de Cristos since I was five years old."
Ford's favorites are the places that were the anchors of his youth (basic Horseman's Haven) laced with contemporary enterprises (a Wal-Mart like every other, James Kelly's sophisticated gallery). They are the little landmarks of a life lived on the periphery of the downtown Plaza, which, since the eighties, has been given over to tourist enterprises promoting "Santa Fe style." "It's a look that even Parisians can define," claims Ford.
"Fiesta skirt, turquoise bracelets, cowboy hat, some howling coyote thing, all of which you can find on the Plaza. When I was a kid, downtown was where you had a normal day. You dropped off your dry cleaning. Until last summer you could still get a grilled cheese, french fries, and a Coke at the Woolworth counter." The Woolworth may be gone, but life in Santa Fe is still real—and Ford knows where to find it.
Where to Eat
CHILES FOR BREAKFAST
A down-home haunt of Ford's, Tecolote Café (1203 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/988-1362; breakfast for two $12) makes a winning Santa Fe omelette, jacked up with green chiles, cooled down with cheese. The Pantry (1820 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/982-0179; breakfast for two $13) is open for lunch, but it's breakfast's chile-sauced huevos that really fire up the locals. (Scanning the tables, you couldn't be blamed for thinking hot peppers make your hair grow long and silvery enough to match your belt buckle.) Ford cites Horseman's Haven (6500 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/471-5420; breakfast for two $11) as the best place for a pancakes-and-bacon sort of American breakfast. "You know, a giant and greasy plate of food that's really wonderful." Horseman's is built into a Texaco station and has been run by the same family for the last 17 years. "There are pictures of them all over the walls," says Ford, "and they're still standing behind the counter serving you."
BLUE PLATE LUNCHES
When locals say you can't miss Jo Ann's Ranch O Casados (418 N. Riverside Dr., Espanola; 505/753-2837; lunch for two $10), they're not talking about your being able to spot it. They're referring to Jo Ann's terrific northern New Mexican cooking. The Casados family grows its own corn, tomatoes, squash, and chiles on a farm up the road, grinds sprouted wheat for whole-grain sopaipillas, and makes fresh tortillas daily.
Ford hikes every day he's in Santa Fe—not only to stretch his legs and fill his lungs but to work off the pecan chocolate-chip cookies he picks up at Sage Bakehouse (535 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/820-7243; lunch for two $15). "If it's not the cookies," he says, "it's whatever else they've just pulled out of the oven." Sandwiches like tuna, pesto, capers, and tomatoes on paisano bread make the perfect picnic take-away.
DINNER AND DESERT
Maria's New Mexican Kitchen (555 W. Cordova Rd.; 505/983-7929; dinner for two $25) has not one menu but two: the first for traditional New Mexican food, the second an even more devastating list—of more than 70 margaritas. Regulars refer to neither; they just order what they always have: in Ford's case, the chicken-and-cheese enchiladas. As for the drinks, Maria's mixes prime tequila (from single-barrel aged Porfidio añejo to 100th Anniversary Jose Cuervo añejo barrel select) with triple sec, fresh-squeezed lemon juice (on the theory that, year-round, lemons are more consistent in flavor than limes), and ice made from filtered water.
"I love the food," says Ford of Tiny's Restaurant & Lounge (1015 Pen Rd.; 505/983-9817; dinner for two $25), which has a menu similar to Maria's. "But I've always gone as much to see the hole my grandmother made in the front door. Once, when she was dancing with her third husband, she kicked up her heels with a little too much spirit." The hole has been fixed, but the food's as good as ever.
Neighbors on Canyon Road, Geronimo (724 Canyon Rd.; 505/982-1500; dinner for two $70) and The Compound (653 Canyon Rd.; 505/982-4353; dinner for two $60) couldn't be more different. "I definitely eat at Geronimo more often," says Ford. "The big room has a great atmosphere, a little loud but fun, and the food is delicious." The restaurant was named for Geronimo Lopez, the farmer who built the adobe house in 1756; loyal patrons know to order the grilled elk tenderloin. For Ford, the most savory ingredient of the more formal Compound is the interior itself. "I was there with my grandparents on opening night, when I was five, and I worked there as a busboy when I was in high school," he recalls. "They still serve vichyssoise and tournedos au poivre—which I don't eat regularly—but I keep returning because the room is so pretty."
Ford moves around town largely unrecognized but for an occasional mention in the local gossip column of where he was spotted eating. "It only happens when I go to the chichi places—chichi for Santa Fe, I mean—like Santacafé [231 Washington Ave.; 505/984-1788; dinner for two $90] and Ristra [548 Agua Fria St.; 505/982-8608; dinner for two $75]. If you want to be seen, you go to Santacafé; Ristra is more intimate." Dishes at the former roam from Morocco (rack of lamb with couscous and jalapeño-mint syrup) to Japan (tiger prawn tempura with red chile sauce). The latter's menu speaks French with a slight New Mexican accent.
Where to Shop
Though much of the work coming out of the city-designated "residential arts and crafts zone" of Canyon Road clashes with Ford's lean look, he does pop by sculptor Juan Hamilton's studio, and he also inspects the baskets, Navajo blankets, and jewelry at the Kania-Ferrin Gallery (662 Canyon Rd.; 505/982-8767). "I'm always impressed with what John [Kania] uncovers, because it gets harder and harder to find good Indian things," says Ford, who treasures the bracelets he has from his grandmother. "I don't wear them—though I could because she always had dramatic man-size jewelry—but I love them."
Ford makes daily excursions to the cluster of shops where Garcia Street meets Canyon Road. He picks up locally roasted Las Chivas coffee, newspapers, and glossier reads at Downtown Subscription (376 Garcia St.; 505/983-3085), whose 1,000-plus stock of magazines impresses even Ford. "The selection is amazing. I can stay here for the entire month of August and not lose touch at all." Just as comprehensive is the range of photography books at neighboring Photo-Eye Books & Prints (376 Garcia St.; 505/988-5152).
Take one look at Ford's sensual designs for Gucci sterling silver housewares and you can tell he'd have a sympathetic eye for the organic shapes of the metalware at Nambé (924 Paseo de Peralta; 505/988-5528). "I probably have every piece they make," he confesses. "I love, love Nambé; it reminds me of the sixties."
If Canyon Road is tourist lane, Cerrillos Road, especially its outer reaches, is the groove carved by natives. "It's where you see people from way out in the country," says Ford. "The real-life shopping goes on there."
"Jackalope [2820 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/471-8539] is where I send people who can't leave without some Santa Fe thing," says Ford. They can choose from lanterns and hammocks in one building; kachinas and piñon incense in another. The courtyard in between is full of terra-cotta pots and weathered cedar and iron furniture.
If you really want to see celebrities, head to Wal-Mart (3251 Cerrillos Rd.; 505/474-4727), a store so different from Ford's international haunts that to him it's exotic. "The higher plane in Santa Fe is there searching for the lower plane," reflects Ford. "They're trying to escape what you normally encounter in a city. You're just as likely to run into Ali MacGraw at Wal-Mart as up in Tesuque—which is the Bel-Air of Santa Fe, if Santa Fe has such a thing as an exclusive enclave."
Ford's uniform as a student at Santa Fe Prep was Levi's 501's, Brooks Brothers oxford shirts, and—for a dose of local style—cowboy boots. For fancy vintage boots, he sends friends to Hopalong Boot Co. (Rodeo Rd., 505/471-5570). But he directs those who want to shop elbow-to-elbow with the rodeo boys to Western Warehouse (Villa Linda Mall, Cerrillos and Rodeo Rds.; 505/471-8775). "They've got Stetson hats and those big belt buckles, all the boots like Justin and Tony Lama, and Levi's and Wrangler jeans." Real cowboys wear only Wrangler, says Ford—"and they wear them so tight."
As for the city's vaunted gallery scene, Ford has just one favorite. "Laura Carpenter brought contemporary art to Santa Fe," he recalls, "and now we have Jim Kelly. He's honest and he has a very good eye." Though last summer's inaugural exhibition at James Kelly Contemporary (1601 Paseo de Peralta; 505/989-1601) was devoted to artists who live and work in New Mexico—Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg, Richard Tuttle—the gallery is just as likely to show Warhol.
What to Do
Like a native anywhere, Ford signs on for scheduled cultural activities more often when he has friends in town. "Even though I'm not a big opera fan, I tell people they have to go to the open-air Santa Fe Opera [Hwy. 84; 800/280-4654 or 505/986-5900]. It's a great experience to hear those voices as the sun goes down." He also recommends the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (107 W. Palace Ave.; 505/983-2075), held every summer at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Ford admits that it may seem touristy, but he insists that the Indian dances held at the pueblos in the summer are totally worth seeing (information: Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau; 800/777-2489 or 505/984-6760). "There's a seriousness that makes it feel like much more than a show."
FUN IN THE SUN
Hiking is what grounds Ford physically and spiritually. "For every day that I hike in Santa Fe," he laments, "I spend twenty others on a plane or in the office. There's nothing more spectacular than the Santa Fe Ski Area [505/982-4429] from about mid-September through October. The aspens are every shade of yellow and orange." He also likes Tent Rocks, south of town near the Cochiti Pueblo, where tall million-year-old cones of pumice sport rock caps, and hoodoo formations of boulders are supported by pedestals.
His cure for walk-weary muscles?A soak, a massage, and a salt glow at the Japanese health spa Ten Thousand Waves (3541 Hyde Park Rd.; 505/982-9304). "When it opened in 1981," recalls Ford, "it was the place to go—especially for kids our age. I won't tell you what we used to do there, but we sure had fun in those tubs open to the sky."
For farther-reaching excursions, Ford's Range Rover takes over. "One of my favorite drives is up to Chimayó," he says. "The view over the mesas is spectacular, especially at the end of the day when the sun lights up the edges of the clouds." The faithful travel as far as El Sanctuario de Chimayó (505/351-4889) to gather a handful of "holy dirt" from a site considered by many to be a healing place. For Ford, the Spanish-Pueblo chapel itself is the draw. "The funny thing is, the Santa Fe style is so familiar that when people see the real thing, like the Sanctuario, they think it's fake."
Ford's car nearly drives itself to Abiquiu, where he has a 100-acre ranch. "I usually stop at Bode's [Hwy. 84, Abiquiu; 505/685-4422], just down the hill from Georgia O'Keeffe's house [Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, Hwy. 84; 505/685-4539]. It's astonishing—a 1998 version of a general store. You can get everything you need there: gas, vitamins, the New York Times." And though he doesn't visit O'Keeffe's house often, it's on his mind as he renovates his own. "Her house is so simple and liberating," sighs Ford. "I love the color of the dark mud walls in her bedroom so much I contacted the O'Keeffe Museum [217 Johnson St., Santa Fe; 505/995-0785] to have it matched.
"What drew O'Keeffe to New Mexico still draws people," he continues. "A certain freedom and creativity really flourishes in Santa Fe because it's far, far away from everything." The starkness of the land, the monastic and tactile quality of the architecture are what feed Ford. "You know the O'Keeffe painting, the one that's the view from her bedroom east toward Taos?She reduced the highway to just a swerve of line. That's what New Mexico is for me. It's all about reduction."
WHERE TO STAY
If Ford didn't already have a place in town, he'd crash at Dos Casas Viejas (610 Agua Fria St.; 505/983-1636, fax 505/983-1749; doubles from $185), an eight-room inn that, in turning its back to the street, opens its arms to guests who value privacy. Behind an automated wooden gate lies a red brick lane flanked by the two traditional adobes that lend the inn its name. A common dining room (where breakfast is served) looks out to the lap pool; sofas in an adjacent lounge frame an adobe hearth. Each of the three spacious suites has its own patio and wood-burning kiva fireplace, so not only is the air quiet—the inn is a 15-minute walk from the Plaza—it's fragrant with piñon.
Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave.; 800/688-8100 or 505/988-3030, fax 505/988-3277; doubles from $249) may be the closest Santa Fe comes to Gucci, not in look but in attitude. At this, the most full-service and expensive hotel in town, swank young cowboys, their heads not quite big enough to fill their hats, escort you from the front desk all the way to your bathroom door. Along the way they pause to point out the inn's features: the Anasazi Restaurant, where fusion cuisine means Native American fare crossed with cowboy grub; the library stocked with books on Southwestern culture and history; and the instant atmosphere created by gas fireplaces in each of the 59 rooms (which, though well outfitted with four-poster beds, Indian rugs, and printouts of Zuni songs at turndown, can be a bit on the small side).