Tom Ford : Life after Gucci #2 - Page 38 - the Fashion Spot
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This is the fashion industry people. Since when is creating a buzz anything new?

I went back and re-read the article, and he never said he was moving the show permanently to LA, just next season. The media as well as everyone else who read the article only focused on one aspect and ran with it.

Calling him selfish (moving his show) and a hypocrite (having a runway show & live-streaming it) is ridiculous to me. Is no one able to change their opinion anymore, or is building a brand/business and having a strategy not something we expect anymore? He is damned is he does and damned if he doesn't it seems. Can't please everyone, so why even try - which often seems to be his motto, and I don't blame him.

At the end of the day, his product moves, is well made, and has a loyal following....I think he is having the last laugh.

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June 2, 2014
Bridget Foley's Diary: 'Lifetime' Achievement — Tom Ford Takes Stock
By Bridget Foley

• We didn’t want Jack to be a bastard.

• [Fashion advertising] is about the image. She’s no longer a person; she’s an image.

• The concept that I launched with — that was a mistake. It failed.

• [Post-baby], I haven’t had a Botox injection or a filler. I haven’t had time.

Such thoughts expressed freely make Tom Ford one of fashion’s intrepid conversationalists. He delivers all, from the silly (see: bastard) to those intended to quiver the PC meter needle (see: no-longer-human models), in the same deadpan monotone with which he has been charming and alarming for the better part of two decades, leaving his listener to divine his degree of seriousness.

Fashion’s most dashing provocateur skyrocketed to superstardom on a unique vessel of bravado, commercial savvy, marketing brilliance and a severely underrated design talent. Beneath the signature come-hither runway makeup and beneath the messed hair lurks the kind of alluring, wearably racy clothes that resonate with well-heeled, well-toned women who like to work the sexy, notice-me side of chic.

Put simply, Ford changed fashion. In the early Nineties, deconstruction, that intriguing crossover from the avant-garde (when there was a real avant-garde) was a mainstream flop. At the same time, designers thought to have a head for business were considered second-class. Then along came Tom Ford, who resurrected Gucci from fashion folly with a pragmatic respect for reality and a steadfast belief in his own gut instincts. Once he put Amber Valletta on the runway in a satin shirt and velvet bell-bottoms he became an instant icon.

Though the Ford-Gucci Group relation is long over, the template it established for storied house revival remains. Ford moved on quite famously and now helms his own brand, which exploded quickly. Tonight, the CFDA honors him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

WWD: We’ll talk about the CFDA Award. But first, your marriage to Richard [Buckley].

Tom Ford: We didn’t want Jack to be a bastard.

WWD: Your approach was interesting. No formal announcement, but when asked about Richard, you offered the news onstage.

T.F.: I was on stage at the Apple talk [London, April 7]. [Kinvara Balfour] asked about Richard and I said, “We’ve been together for 27 years, in fact we’re married.” It didn’t occur to me that anyone would be interested.

WWD: Does it surprise you that to so many people today, gay marriage is no more or less of a deal than straight marriage?

T.F.: Even the way people sent notes that said congratulations. I ran into a business meeting and people said it in a way that anyone would congratulate anyone. It is odd for someone who was at the tail end of growing up in a world in which it wasn’t OK. It isn’t odd the last 20 years, maybe even longer.

WWD: Do you really think being gay has been a nonissue for 20 years? In fashion, yes, but the larger world?

T.F.: I don’t know. I moved to New York at the end of the Seventies. The feeling then was that it was almost chic to be gay. I had straight friends — it was a different moment — it kind of made you cool if you slept with a straight guy. Then we moved into a different era largely because of AIDS. I didn’t feel the negative pressure in those early years.

WWD: Has parenthood changed you as a person or just the day-to-day reality of your life?

T.F.: It has really changed me; I’m not sure how to articulate it. A lot of things I cared about before I don’t care as much about anymore.

It has damaged — no, damaged is the wrong word. It has minimized my ambition a little bit, my ambition in business, my ambition in having a beautiful house. It has become the most important thing in my life. Everything else has had to recede, including my appearance. I don’t care about it. I care about being successful. I just don’t care about any of it as much. You can’t.

WWD: Are you prepared for the toddler years and the sticky fingers on the sofa?

T.F.: Jack’s not like that. He’s just not.

WWD: There won’t be sticky fingers?

T.F.: That’s all I’ll say on the record. Everything in my life — [parenthood] has softened me a bit. I’m probably very wound up, but people who know me say that it has altered me.

WWD: Let’s talk about this award. Does “lifetime achievement” freak you out a little bit?

T.F.: Getting the Lifetime Achievement Award is as if someone is throwing water on you. It wakes you up as to your age. [He’s 52.] Once I was on a set with two models, a male model and a female. I thought in my head, “These are people I could probably sleep with.” And then I heard one of them refer to me as old — I was 38 years old. It was one of those little milestones that made me think, “OK, I’m this age. I am old enough to be their father.”

WWD: That’s some thought process, from CFDA Lifetime Achievement to models you mused about sleeping with.

T.F.: Of course, I think, “Wow! Maybe I’d better be happy with what I’ve done.” It makes you think. This is one of the few awards I actually keep out. [He has five other CFDA Awards] They’re beautiful, the Trova statues.

WWD: Do you feel connected to the American fashion industry?

T.F.: I don’t. I’m going to qualify that. I am not nationalistic, I don’t feel connected [to any one place]. I am a global brand, I live an international life and I have for many years.

WWD: Everyone thinks globally, but do you feel a creative or emotional connection to a particular place?

T.F.: I am totally mid-Atlantic. Occasionally in Europe someone will comment on what I do as being American. I am an American designer, but I’ve lived and worked in Europe for so long, I’m detached from Seventh Avenue. Most American fashion designers, if they’re going to be successful, they’ve got to think globally. I feel more of a connection to European fashion. It is where I learned. I did have three years on Seventh Avenue. The way I know how to work, how to operate, the way the business is still executed, I learned in Europe.

WWD: The last time I interviewed you, you said that you expect the Tom Ford brand to become one of the top five luxury brands in the world. Are you still as passionate about that, or is that less important now?

T.F.: Absolutely, it’s still a goal. But I’m more aware of the universe now. If that’s going to happen, great. But now work is not the main thing in my life. [Being a parent] has made me less desperate about it.

WWD: What you’ve done with the Tom Ford brand in a short time is amazing.

T.F.: The last 10 years since I left Gucci have been so transformative. The thing about a transitional state is that you can think, “I didn’t accomplish anything; I was shifting toward something else.” This award has helped me realize that perhaps that transition, looking back at the last 10 years, maybe it’s not purely a transitional state. Maybe I have done something.

WWD: Fashion has changed a great deal in 10 years.

T.F.: The pre-collections have become so important in terms of our business, but I’ve resisted showing it to the press. It is a relentless stream of product that we generate. That is not the way it was when I was designing 16 collections between Gucci and Saint Laurent. Part of it is the Internet. It may also be that I’m now ceo, president and owner of my own brand. That wasn’t the case then.

WWD: Talk about some of the differences — then and now.

T.F.: I think I’m only just now getting used to it. In the way that fashion shows happen, you come out now and there’s a roomful of phones held up at you. I don’t know if it’s possible for people in the audience to be moved. Before, you could control the lighting, you could control the atmosphere, it was very cinematic. You could control the audience experience in a way that’s very hard to do today.

WWD: Everyone’s tweeting and Instagramming.

T.F.: They seem distracted by all of that.

WWD: You tried to fight it, the instant global transmissions.

T.F.: I tried. I failed. I tried to change that. I wasn’t anti-Internet. I was anti-seeing something six months in advance. If you can make it available immediately, then yes, yes, of course it makes total sense. I was just looking through a retail magazine and I saw something I loved when it came out [on the runway]. Now it feels old, and it’s only now being shipped to the store. The look feels photographed and worn. But I failed. It’s a part of popular culture I can’t not participate in. Once I reached a certain scale, I had to go along with it.

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WWD: This award is for lifetime achievement, so I have to ask you about Gucci. With 10 years of distance, what’s your perspective on what you did at Gucci?

T.F.: I’m so proud of it. I’m so proud of what I did at Saint Laurent, too. I loved the last three or four collections I did for Saint Laurent.

WWD: What else are you proud of?

T.F.: I’m so proud that so many of the people who worked with me are in major positions now. Bottega Veneta — Tomas Maier is amazing. He’s someone I’ve respected for a long time. I was instrumental in buying that company and instrumental in hiring Tomas Maier.

And people who worked with me in senior positions — Frida Giannini at Gucci. Christopher Bailey at Burberry. Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein. Alessandra Facchinetti at Tod’s. Stefano Pilati, first at YSL, now Zegna. Vanessa Seward worked with me at Saint Laurent. She’s now at A.P.C. [Since our conversation, A.P.C. has backed Seward in her own collection.] Clare Waight Keller at Chloé. John Ray at Dunhill. Barbara Croce, who was at Vionnet. Francesco Russo. He was at Sergio Rossi and now has his own brand. There are many more in the number-two slots at other houses.

WWD: Do you feel a certain ownership of Gucci?

T.F.: It has taken a long time for me to not feel that connection. No I do not, definitely not at Saint Laurent because Saint Laurent has moved on. Gucci repeats. At Gucci, they’re clearly looking at my archives. I’ll look and say, “Oh, I remember that, I remember that.” But I don’t feel attached to it anymore; it feels less personal. I don’t feel a strong personality in that brand. Saint Laurent I definitely [don’t feel attached to]. There is a very strong personality at Saint Laurent, very consistent.

WWD: Do you pay attention to other people’s shows?

T.F.: Everybody’s. You have to. I watch most major shows online; you have to know. The world we live in is built on everything that came before us. It’s in fashion, the same with any art. In order to work, you have to know what’s going on.

WWD: There’s certainly a lot going on in your base, London.

T.F.: There’s a great energy in London with the younger designers. I think people are rushed into things today, to sign their names away quickly. They’re snapped up by big brands before they realize who they are. Right from school they become the flavor of the month, and big brands sometimes snap them up. I don’t yet think we’ve seen the backlash, but we know that large multibrand conglomerates — when your time is up, your time is up and you’re out.

WWD: You know something about it?

T.F.: I’m not talking about myself. Some of the more recent appointments; [there can be] such lack of regard for the amount of good work. From the outside, it can seem so callous.

WWD: Does creativity suffer at times because younger designers think they must be Shanghai-store ready right away?

T.F.: That’s also symptomatic of this generation. What do you want to be when you grow up? Famous. Famous at what? There’s an expectation that you just go right to the top, a lack of understanding of what it takes.

WWD: You were perceived as a business-savvy designer early on. Today, many younger designers seem also to be hyper-focused on the business side. A good thing on one hand, but I wonder if there’s a downside.

T.F.: There is a downside to that. I’ve seen it in myself. I’ll have an idea and will say, I’ve tried that before and it doesn’t sell. Then I’ll see someone else do it and it looks great, it’s “the last look” in a magazine. OK, I guess I was really wrong.

WWD: Do you second-guess yourself?

T.F.: Second guess? Yes, I do. I question everything I do every step of the way. Once I make the decision I’m almost blinded by believing in it, and then I usually hate I everything I’ve done.

WWD: Do you get nostalgic at all?

T.F.: More and more, the older I get, I get nostalgic, and it makes you sad. There’s a quote: “Old age is the landscape of your life.” It’s corny but I like it. There’s more of a landscape as you get older.

WWD: Would you go back to age 30 if you could?

T.F.: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m very happy with where I am. I have a lot to be very happy about.

WWD: Are you prepared to be old in fashion?

T.F.: Yes. I’ve decided to age. Since we’ve had Jack I haven’t had a Botox injection or a filler. I haven’t had time.

WWD: The red carpet — you’ve called it “a bubble of 1950s Barbie clothes.”

T.F.: I loathe it. It’s not about dressing everybody. It’s about dressing the right person in the right thing to create a truly memorable moment.

WWD: But how hard is it when every actress seems to want a fishtail or a retro ballgown?

T.F.: It’s incredibly hard. You have to choose an actress with presence and style. And there has to be a great stylist because you can have a great dress and it can go all wrong with the wrong hair or the wrong jewelry.

WWD: The retro hair thing on those young actresses…

T.F.: What you see on the red carpet has nothing to do with what’s happening in fashion.

WWD: I’ve talked to so many designers who say you have to do it. It’s perceived as essential.

T.F.: I didn’t dress a single person this year. I wonder if it’s as essential as it was 10 years ago.

WWD: How about real-world big events — weddings. Do you like doing weddings?

T.F.: No, no, no, no, no, no. Other than for very close friends I won’t do it. I did the dresses for the De Sole girls. That’s different — when you love someone. That was meaningful. I dressed Sally Tadayon when she married Rufus Albemarle and she just went for it. Those are fun: That is designing. If it’s not a friend, I won’t.

WWD: I don’t think of you as being collaborative.

T.F.: It isn’t collaborative. Girls come in with a notion of their childhood vision. Most weddings, girls come to you with pictures, some of them had them in their diaries since they were 17. They may say, “I always wanted you to design my dress.” It doesn’t matter [what they say]. It doesn’t matter how much they’ll pay because there are really a lot of wealthy girls out there. You’re not a designer. You’re a servant.

WWD: Speaking of the De Soles, you and Domenico De Sole have one of fashion’s iconic unions. What makes a partnership work?

T.F.: We’re a couple. Trust, number one. You have to really believe the other person always has your back, and you trust implicitly. I mean trust with your life. I would trust Domenico with my life. Then you have to have compatible work ethics. For Domenico and me, today doesn’t exist yesterday. We have the exact same work ethic. We also respect what each of us does. Domenico is one of the few people in the world I trust to do things in my place. I think he trusts me and my judgments. At this point we have almost 24 years of history working together. We know each other. That’s also important.

WWD: There’s a degree of kismet in finding that partner.

T.F.: It’s fate. We were thrown together. It was luck and fate that brought us together.

WWD: You launched the Tom Ford brand with fragrance and eyewear. Why?

T.F.: I’m not going to say that it’s less work than fashion. But because it’s a licensed product, you don’t have to open your own studio and your own stores. The Lauder meetings, the Marcolin meetings — I go to all of those meetings by myself, no assistants. I work directly and am fully involved at every step. At the time I started I wasn’t sure how it would all develop.

WWD: Where did that idea come from?

T.F.: Without actually committing to a full-fledged company of my own, it developed organically. I can say it was a smart business model but it was more a personal thing to slowly step back into the business. I was traumatized by having left [Gucci Group]. When I came back, I did it in steps.

WWD: You didn’t succeed at keeping social media out of your shows. When else have you been unsuccessful?

T.F.: Oh God, I’ve had a couple of very bad collections. One I’d intended to show in the showroom and a particular French journalist called and made a huge deal of not having been invited. At the last minute, I decided I’d better do a show. I sent a collection down the runway that was a showroom collection. It didn’t hang together with a cohesive point of view. The concept that I launched with — that was a mistake. It failed. And that was to create individual clothes for all different types of women.

WWD: You did that in that wonderful show with Beyoncé, Rachel Feinstein, Marisa Berenson.

T.F.: After that show I stuck to the concept. But if you don’t have Rachel Feinstein modeling….Put all these things on models and it doesn’t have a point of view. You’re showing 35 outfits rather than a collection. It looks like a bunch of clothes. My first few collections were like that.

WWD: If you were showing that collection today, would there be changes on the casting additions?

T.F.: God, I’d have to really think about it, there are so many. Rihanna is so influential, but she’s so obvious. Beyoncé would still be there. That’s not even interesting, not news. I’d have to think about it.

WWD: Another that’s intensified in recent years: the reaction to digitally altered fashion images. Social media has heightened the backlash.

T.F.: I don’t think things are so retouched today. But why wouldn’t people expect pictures to be altered? [Fashion advertising] is not about the models, it’s about the image. She’s no longer a person; she’s an image. The way we talk — “she has no neck; her legs are stumps” — of course she has a neck. But the image isn’t an image of real person. It’s an idealized image.

WWD: For all of the democratization of fashion today, there’s a level on which people love to attack. I’m not saying that fashion is perfect, but it is fashion.

T.F.: I think it’s silly. There has always been retouching; it’s well-known. You see the retouched photo and the original and you can’t tell it’s the same picture. In the Fifties, they certainly slimmed them down. In the old days, Lauren Hutton would pop her extra tooth in [her gap]. Now we do it with computers. This is not new. A photograph used for advertising is no longer a photograph of a person. It’s an image…it’s not meant to be the exact replica of the person. We’re talking about fashion. Fashion is about communicating a dream.

Come on.

WWD: Do fashion shows matter?

T.F.: That’s a big question. We talk directly to the consumer today. The thing, ideally, is to excite the stylists and editors, so they’ll think, “I can’t wait to do that story.” That’s really what you’re doing. All of the rest of it, you do go right to the consumer. There is also something about having everyone in a room. Everyone talks and a consensus is reached and repeated and repeated and repeated. It takes on a life of its own after the show. Alone, someone might be afraid to say, “I loved it” or “I didn’t.” The consensus matters.

WWD: Back to the award. You said you don’t usually look back, but this has made you think about what you’ve accomplished.

T.F.: It’s a milestone. It’s a 50th birthday where you go “wow!” It has mostly made me feel better rather than worse about myself. I should be happy for all the great things; I should feel satisfied rather than hungry.

WWD: What do you love most about fashion?

T.F.: The best thing about being a fashion designer for me is that I have a voice in contemporary culture. This was the thing that I missed about not designing, and ultimately, was the thing that lured me back into the business. I hated not having that voice.

Shortly after our conversation, Tom called back with a follow-up:

T.F.: Did I even say I was grateful? I am grateful. It does mean a lot to me, this award. Of course I’m grateful.

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That is I think my favorite interview of his. I love that he's taking and has taken risk and realizes that some were unsuccessful.

Catch that dig at Gucci though. Lol. I would have to agree and it seems consumers agree that Gucci doesn't have a strong personality. YSL which I don't care for at the moment has a strong consistent personality. I wish this interview was longer!

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Thanks for the post Lola!

Tom's always been acutely aware of the times we live in, and as brazenly confident as he can come across, I think he's genuine when he says he's grateful. As much as he lives in that rarified, exclusive (other)world that is high fashion, he's remained very grounded and self-awared-- unlike so many in the industry whom have become a fashion caricature.

I liked his last collection. The presentation may not have been the best, but when the clothes are on the racks at the shops (minus the ugly footwear), I think they will shine, as they always do.

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Originally Posted by Phuel View Post
I liked his last collection. The presentation may not have been the best, but when the clothes are on the racks at the shops (minus the ugly footwear), I think they will shine, as they always do.
I agree. I've said it before around here, but Tom truly is making some of the most beautiful, timeless and luxurious clothes on the market right now. These are clothes that you have to see in person to fully appreciate their power. They are stunning. Breathtaking quality, the most sensual fabrics, impeccable cuts and the styling of the clothes is so easy and attractive. If I were a woman (and could afford it)...I'd wear Tom all day, every day.

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^^^ I really loved the flares in a very structured, sculptural fit with their pearly sheen and all the simple and sequined sweaters. And the awkwardness of the lanky girls looking like Jean Colonna girls/Pat Benatar/Debbie Harry-wannabe groupies is rather a wonderful vision for such luxurious clothes.

The interweb has been both a great service, and a horrible way to view high fashion. One of the most positive aspect of instant-accessibility to this exclusive world is anyone can see it. But with that, comes instant judgement-- and often rejection, of a collection before anyone even sees it in the shops, if at all. No matter how HQ an image is on the web, it's not nearly the same thing as seeing a garment close-up and personal. So you get a lot of "It's so H&M, it's so Zarah, it's so Club Monaco" dismissals. It's unfair.

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Thanks so much for posting the WWD interview, ALWAYS a pleasure to read his interviews.

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Thanks for posting, Lola! His interviews are always a good read.

Frock n' Roll
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The Business of Being Tom Ford, Part I
To accompany the launch of the BoF 500, Imran Amed sits down with the one and only Tom Ford to understand how he built his own brand — projected to soon turn over $1 billion a year at retail — and the lessons he has learned along the way.

LONDON, United Kingdom — “It’s much, much, much harder starting from scratch,” says Tom Ford on launching his own brand. Fresh off a trans-Atlantic flight, but still looking every part the superstar designer, Ford is immaculate in one of his dark, signature, peaked-lapel suits, with a blue tie and white shirt, fastened at the neck by a gold collar pin, all offset by glowing skin and perfectly manicured stubble. “I didn’t have any idea how hard it would be, and I have had every advantage that anyone could possibly have.”

Indeed, with a significant personal fortune estimated at more than $200 million, name recognition around the world and invaluable years of experience at the creative helm of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, even the legendary Tom Ford has had to overcome some of the same challenges faced by every other fashion start-up — albeit with a significant leg up.

Sure, he had a well-known name and a magnetic personality to match, but the incipient business had no defined brand identity or DNA to build upon. There were no established house codes or signatures that could be re-interpreted and re-imagined each season, no core products that could drive predictable recurring revenues, and no stores to sell them in.

In order to succeed, Ford would have to create everything from scratch.


“There was a lot of me in Gucci, and a lot of me in Yves Saint Laurent. However, there was also a framework,” says Ford. “At Gucci I had a bamboo handle. I could stick it on anything and it sold. A horse bit, I could stick it on anything and it was Gucci, or a red and green stripe.”

And when those products were created, they could rapidly be distributed en masse at Gucci stores around the world. “There were 180 stores, so there was immediately a distribution network. Six months later, all the things that I designed were all over the world — and boom, sales! It happened very fast,” he says, snapping his fingers for effect.

“There was a period of time where it seemed as though everything I touched turned to gold,” Ford recalls. “From the moment I started at Gucci, our numbers doubled and then doubled and then doubled again.”

He is not exaggerating. The turnaround and subsequent growth of the Gucci business is now the stuff of fashion industry legend.

Tom Ford first arrived at Gucci in 1990 as a women’s ready-to-wear designer. But things were not going well with the business. In 1993, Gucci lost $22 million on $230 million in sales. Maurizio Gucci, the founder’s grandson, had over licensed the brand into everything from ashtrays to coffee mugs. Creditors and employees were chasing the company for payments. The truth is, Gucci was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Then in 1994, Ford was appointed the brand’s creative director by rising new chief executive Domenico de Sole, who had the support of Gucci’s new majority owners, Investcorp, a Bahrain-based investment group. Left to his own devices, Ford injected the brand with a heady dose of sexy, cool glamour that took the international fashion industry by storm with his ground-breaking Autumn/Winter 1995 collection, changing the fortunes of the Gucci brand seemingly overnight.

By 1999, Gucci was valued at more than $4 billion and had attracted the interest of some of the luxury industry’s biggest business titans, including Bernard Arnault of LVMH, Patrizio Bertelli of Prada and François Pinault of Pinault Printemps Redoute. Eventually Mr Pinault, who rode in at the last minute as a proverbial white knight, won the battle for the star brand and its star designer.

Soon after, Ford and De Sole went on a buying spree, building what eventually became the “Gucci Group,” starting with the acquisition of Yves Saint Laurent, where Ford took the role of creative director, in addition to his existing role at Gucci. Deals to acquire Boucheron (2000), Sergio Rossi (2000), Balenciaga (2001), and Bottega Veneta (2001) soon followed, as well as investments in budding businesses helmed by Alexander McQueen (2000) and Stella McCartney (2001).

If there was a superman in fashion, it was Tom Ford.

But it was not to last. After an acrimonious and public parting of ways from Mr Pinault in April 2004 following disagreements over control of the business, Tom Ford — the man who built the foundations of the Gucci Group fashion empire (today, known as Kering, and run by Mr Pinault’s son, François-Henri Pinault) — suddenly found himself without a job.

“I was unsure of what I’d do after [that] because, quite honestly, I was shell-shocked. I was very depressed about it,” says Ford. At the time, he told the press that he had no interest in returning to fashion and that he might turn his creativity to other activities.


But that was then, this is now. Today, almost ten years later, Mr Ford and I are sitting in his intimate, lair-like office at the global headquarters of Tom Ford International (TFI) in London’s Howick Place, where the designer’s touch is apparent everywhere you look.

His office is dark, but perfectly lit, like a bar at a grand, five-star hotel. The furniture is made of deep, rare Makassar ebony from Indonesia. Elevated in the corner, under a spotlight, is a shocking “mutated mannequin” sculpture by the artists Jake and Dinos Chapman. There are dozens and dozens of identical black felt pens, neatly organised into cups on his desk, and leaning on top of a chest of drawers are several striking black-and-white images in identical elegant black frames, nods to some of the defining moments and people in Ford’s personal and professional life.

Front-and-centre is a photo of a then 30 year-old Richard Buckley, Ford’s partner of more than 25 years. There is also a sultry headshot of the stylist-cum-editor Carine Roitfeld who worked closely with Ford during his years at Gucci, a Vanity Fair portrait of Ford with Domenico de Sole (now the Chairman of TFI), and a full-frontal nude image of martial arts champion Samuel de Cubber from a controversial Ford-era Yves Saint Laurent cologne ad.

An hour earlier, Ford had stepped off a plane from Los Angeles, where he spends about half the year. Jack, his 10-month-old son, is back at the ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Buckley. Ford is in London for only three days to do fittings for his Spring/ Summer 2014 womenswear collection and to preview the first stand-alone Tom Ford store in London which opened quietly on Sloane Street in July, followed by a splashy London Fashion Week party.

Yes, Mr Tom Ford is back in fashion, and in a big way.

“By early 2014, if we continue to meet our business plan, we will hit one billion dollars [a year] at retail of Tom Ford products,” he reveals. “That’s all the products together: eyewear, fragrance, cosmetics, ready-to-wear, men’s and women’s accessories. A billion dollars of product with the label Tom Ford on it will be selling at retail.”

It’s a staggering number and a milestone that takes most new fashion brands decades to achieve. But Mr Ford has done it in less than ten years.

How did he do it?

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“I was very aware that I needed to promote my name, and so I was conscious of that from the very beginning,” he begins. “I realised after I left Gucci, that I needed to own what I had done, so the first thing I did was a Tom Ford book. I did it within 4 to 5 months of leaving,” he explains. “I thought, ‘I’m very proud of what I’ve done and I’m going to claim it, and I’m going to put it all in a big thick book and label it Tom Ford.’”
The book, published in 2004 by Rizzoli, with its bold monochromatic Tom Ford branding — “in 214-point type,” according to Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter — is now in its fifth print run. It also set the branding template for the slew of Tom Ford products that would come in its wake, and provided opportunities for Ford to connect with his global fan-base and the luxury industry more broadly, keeping his name in the increasingly crowded mix of fashion brands vying for attention.

“It gave me the ability for magazine stories, gave me the ability to go do signings at Bergdorfs, Neimans,” he explains. “It was a link to keep my name alive.”


Then in April 2005, Ford announced two global licensing deals: with Marcolin for eyewear and Estée Lauder for beauty. Whereas most luxury fashion businesses start off with very expensive in-house ready-to-wear collections, which require significant upfront investment, the Tom Ford brand would launch with products at more accessible price points, run by trusted partners and requiring little to no cash investment from Mr Ford himself, only his time, taste and sensibility.

At the time, it was seen as a highly unusual, contrarian move. But in hindsight, it was a masterstroke. Deals like these come with multi-million dollar budgetary commitments by the licensee to advertise the product lines. These global campaigns, which Ford directed and oversaw himself, would give further visibility to the Tom Ford brand and help to reach a vast consumer base from day one.

“I realised that [the licensing deals] would keep my name very public, [so] that if I chose to go back into fashion it would even make my name bigger,” he adds.

But Ford cautions that none of this would have been possible without his strong track record at Gucci. “Name recognition is only as good as what you produce, just as a logo is as only as valuable as what it’s on. So had I produced collections, which had not been well received, it would have been meaningless.”

It was also Ford’s experience at Gucci that helped him to think big and develop an overall vision for Tom Ford, the global luxury brand. “I didn’t have a fear of scale,” he says. “I’m used to designing a world because even as I was thinking of the perfume bottles, I was [already] thinking about how would they look in our packaging, how would they look sitting in our case lines, how they would look next to each other. So everything has a cohesive look which is what gives a brand a personality.”

Another important branding component was the use of discreet signifiers which would signal the label to people in the know, without being too overt. The first example was in eyewear: a horizontal ‘T’ that runs from either side of the front of the frames and extends down the arms.

“When working with our partner who manufactures and distributes the glasses I said ‘This is our logo,’ and they said ‘Well we need something that says Tom Ford on the side’, and I said ‘No.’ Like you can spot a pair of Persols, that is now our signifier and it’s on virtually every pair of glasses we make. It’s very, very hard to find those initial identifiers when you are starting your own company.”

Last year, more than 1 million pairs of Tom Ford frames were sold globally, says Mr Ford. That’s the equivalent of a platinum record in the United States, albeit at an average price tag of about $350, resulting in an eyewear business that alone sells around $350 million at retail.

As for Tom Ford Beauty, by the end of the fiscal year ended June 2014, the business is expected to turn over more than $275 million at retail in more than 40 countries around the world, according to market reports.

“I don’t think [this] is anywhere near where we are going to be,” says Ford, when asked to comment on the further potential of the beauty business. “I would like to see us easily at $500 million, but it depends how far in the future we are projecting. I would like to be one of the five major brands in the world, in terms of scale.”

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The Business of Being Tom Ford, Part II

LONDON, United Kingdom — It was not long before Ford jumped back into the fashion mix, but surprising observers again, he started with menswear.

“[Menswear] is a detail-driven business. It really is about the fabrics, or the make, or the buttonholes, or the lapels. At the designer level, it is a very, very different business than women’s,” he says. “So I thought ‘OK, I am ready to go back to fashion,’ and this is a kindler, gentler way to do it.”

But unlike the easier price points of his fragrance and eyewear collections, the menswear offering was decidedly expensive, with off-the-rack suits retailing at over $5,000, about the same price as a bespoke suit from Savile Row.

“One of the reasons that a designer is successful is [because of] intuition. Everything I have done has been quite organic,” insists Ford. “Maybe it would sound better if I sat here and told you it was all a pre-mapped strategy and maybe in my subconscious it was, but it wasn’t. It was organic.”

Nonetheless, Ford’s entry into the menswear market was very well-timed indeed. After a short, sharp fall in luxury spending following the financial crisis of 2008, it was not long before the kind of ultra-high net worth men Ford was targeting were shopping again, driving a surge of demand in the luxury menswear market, which according to consultants Bain & Company, has been growing at 12-16 percent per year since 2010, even faster than womenswear.

And, like his entrées into beauty and eyewear, Ford did not try to do everything in house. Instead, he tapped a longstanding relationship — this time with Gildo Zegna, chief executive of Ermenegildo Zegna — to get a quick start.

“Zegna has built an entire business just on menswear. It can be a very profitable business,” he says. “I could have started with my own office, and I know all the factories and I could go to this factory to get my jacket and that factory to get my shirts, but I needed to go fast. I had worked with Zegna [on] both Gucci and YSL, and Zegna was the only partner which had the ability to make everything from suits, shirts, ties, sportswear, all of it, all at once.”

So, Ford inked yet another deal and soon, he was back in the thick of the ready-to-wear fashion business. As with every business line, he maintains significant control to ensure he gets the results he desires.

“We develop all of our own fabrics. That’s very important for our customer. They don’t want to come to us and spend $5,000 on a men’s suit and see that exact same fabric in someone else’s line,” he explains. “And we control our distribution. They handle the manufacturing and the shipping. It’s our showroom, and our staff, our merchandising team, and we decide where we are sold.”


But selling was another challenge altogether.

“The main challenge in starting your own company is [creating] a distribution network — especially when you’re starting a luxury business,” says Ford. And whereas other brands may have chosen to begin by wholesaling their ready-to-wear collections in department stores and boutiques, Ford decided not to go down that route at first. To coincide with the menswear launch, Ford realised he needed his own retail presence, and fast.

“I wanted the very first store to be in London,” he recalls. “I needed to be either on Bond Street or Sloane Street and there [were] no properties available. When anything would come up, I’d get into a bidding war with LVMH, Richemont or Gucci Group. There was no way I could compete.”

So Ford set his sights on New York instead. Stumbling across a space that became vacant when the Gianfranco Ferré store at 845 Madison Avenue moved to a new location, he pounced. “I went right upstairs and called someone and said ‘Get on the phone and find out what this is,’ and that became our first store,” he recalls.

The store opened in April 2007, to coincide with the move into menswear, reflecting, as always, his own personal tastes and aesthetic, and creating a retail template that could be translated for future store locations. “It was initially just a replica of my London living room, right down to taking mirrors off my wall and having them copied,” he remembers.

Then, once again he quickly turned to leverage a set of global relationships built during his time at Gucci Group to set in place franchise deals for Tom Ford retail stores around the world. “We sat with potential franchise partners that we worked with at Gucci and YSL, and [they] committed even before the first store was built,” he says.

Indeed, driven by Mr de Sole, the list of signed partners is formidable and spans the biggest and best luxury retail partners around the globe: The Lane Crawford Joyce Group in Asia, Villa Moda and UAE Trading in the Middle East, Mercury in Russia, Harrods in the UK, Holt Renfrew in Canada and Neiman Marcus Group in the United States.

By the end of this year, Ford’s retail network will begin to rival that of some of the biggest luxury brands in the business, in some of the world’s best locations, with 97 stores and more than 240,000 square feet of space, including 25 directly-operated stores, 23 franchised stores, and 49 shop- in-shops in 23 countries around the world.

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But Ford’s return to fashion wouldn’t have been complete without a womenswear collection, something that he actively resisted at the beginning.

“It wasn’t that it wasn’t appealing,” he says. “I’ve been a fashion designer for 25 years, and I was doing 16 collections a year. It wasn’t specifically clothes, it was just kind of the entire industry,” he continues. “I was very worn out from having generated all of that. I think the women’s fashion business is probably the hardest, toughest business in the world.”

But he finally returned to womenswear in September 2010 in a way that only Tom Ford could pull off. At a secretive show held in his New York store, Ford caught the industry completely by surprise, with a highly exclusive approach that went counter to the prevailing winds that were beginning to transform and democratise the industry.

Only one hundred of fashion’s super-elite editors were invited. Only Terry Richardson, who acted as house photographer, was allowed to shoot the show, and his images would not be released to the public until months later when the collection was available to buy. Attendees were banned from tweeting and taking their own photos in what amounted to a social media blackout.

What’s more, instead of just using models, a diverse coterie of some of the most world’s most famous and beautiful women — including Beyoncé, Julianne Moore, Lauren Hutton, Victoria Fernandez and Rachel Feinstein — stepped in to show Mr Ford’s new wares, alongside star models like Joan Smalls, Natalia Vodianova and Liya Kebede.

At first, his return to womenswear was seen as triumphant by the industry. In her review of his comeback show in the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes said Ford brought “vibrant emotion to a collection of superbly crafted clothes that, while not new or edgy, filled the needs and stoked the desires of women as diverse as those famous and fabulous females in his show.”

This is exactly what he was hoping to achieve. “I wanted to make clothes for every single woman. [She] should be able to walk into my store and we will either have, or be able to make, clothes for that particular woman, in the way that old couture houses did,” he explains. “So I had these different personalities in my show and I made things specifically for them, and I thought ‘Aha this is the new concept!’”


But the following season, Ford faced the first major bumps on his comeback journey. Doing away with the idea of a show altogether, he invited a select few journalists to see his collection in his London showroom. This approach ruffled more than a few feathers, especially on social media and blogs, and led the influential online community at The Fashion Spot to weigh in on the debate: “Tom Ford’s “Secret” Shows — Brilliant or Arrogant?”

The next season, the criticism continued. Virginie Mouzat was the most vocal and public critic, using words like “nightmare” and “old-fashioned” in her review for Le Figaro, criticising not only Ford’s collection and its “borrowed inspirations,” but also the make-up, styling and invitation process.

“I agree with her that it was a terrible collection. It was probably the worst collection that I have ever done. It was a terrible, terrible show,” admits Ford, while adding that he thought her review crossed the line, amounting to a personal attack. “It was not meant to be a show, it was a showroom collection that 4 days before we decided to put on a little runway, because everyone kept calling and getting really angry.”

“Without those [real women] in it, when you put those things on a model, what you end up with is a mess. You end up with an outfit that looks like this, and an outfit that looks like that, but it doesn’t give a cohesive point of view, of what you as a designer, house, brand, believes in for the season,” he says, adding later: “it was also not a good collection because my initial concept for women’s did not work.”

But this only emboldened Ford to find a new path. “I thrive on failure. I thrive on things that are not perfect. It sends me back into the ring to get it right,” he says. “About three seasons ago, we started focusing things more, and I think the two collections we did previous to this last one were really good and I had great press coverage … but no one saw them,” he admits, acknowledging that by limiting exposure of his collections online and restricting media from reporting on them, he was doing his business a disservice.


So, Ford changed his tack again. At his show in London in February, he put on the first full-scale show since his days at Gucci and invited a few new media mavens, including Susanna Lau of Style Bubble, to attend his show for the first time. And while the reviews of his latest collection were mixed, the move signaled Ford’s newfound understanding of today’s media landscape.

“I think one of the reasons I was really resisting digital, was because it’s less controllable. The thing about a journalist like Cathy Horyn or Suzy [Menkes], [is] that they have a certain integrity. They fact check. They have a history. They know what they are watching. A blogger today could have a lot of followers, but maybe doesn’t have that sense of history or that level of professionalism. You can’t control that so you have to just let go,” says Ford.

“I was talking to a friend who’s a journalist and he said ‘You’ll never have that kind of hit in the way that you’re used to in the days when the Internet wasn’t so powerful. You had a consensus of five or ten people who decided whether something was a hit and that’s what the world read, and that’s what the world believed.’ Now it’s very diverse and ultimately the customer decides, which is nice.

Ultimately, that’s what I wanted to do and why I wasn’t showing to the press — because I wanted to design for the customer and not necessarily for editorial.”

Indeed, Ford is perplexed by how digital is changing the fashion industry. “I love black dresses, I think everyone should own a lot, but black dresses don’t sell online because on the computer they don’t read like anything. Fashion has changed so much because of the Internet, not only because of the way it’s reported, but more and more [because of] the way it’s sold.”

But make no mistake. Ford realises the power of the Internet as a commercial vehicle and expects that his own online store will soon become the top door for TFI globally when it launches early next year. Partially, he has arrived at this understanding through his own online buying behaviour, a byproduct of his hectic, peripatetic lifestyle.

“I live, I shop almost exclusively on the Internet,” he says. “I’ve bought cars on the Internet. I watch television, I do everything on it. I even watch my son online,” referring to the baby monitor camera app that he is able to check on his iPhone.


Despite the ups and downs, Ford remains sanguine about the future of his business and seems genuinely excited about the prospects of his soon-to-be billion-dollar brand. “[Now that] we have our distribution network, it’s about to tip,” he says.

So, does that means things are easier for him personally now than when he was at the helm of the Gucci Group empire?

“I feel more worn out now,” he says. “I’ve just had a week in LA with my son, so I’m less worn out than when I left two and half weeks ago, but I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard in my life.”

That said, “the company is profitable, it runs itself and I don’t have to sell paintings,” he says jokingly, referring to the Andy Warhol self-portrait that he sold for $32.6 million in 2010 to help finance the expansion of TFI. “It takes a lot of the stress off of it.”

But, it does beg the question, how long can Tom Ford go on working this hard? Though he refused to even entertain questions about selling his business, he would certainly be in a position to make a considerable amount of money from an exit one day.

“I don’t have to think about it yet, because we are just at the tipping point. I’m still only 51,” he reminds me. “I do know that I want to work ’til the day I drop dead. I might not be doing exactly what I’m doing now, but absolutely I’ll be working until the day I die. I might be making a movie, I might be doing something else, but I will be getting up and doing something.”

And perhaps, this, more than anything, is the secret to the business of being Tom Ford: an indefatigable work ethic combined with an innate desire to build things.

“I think it’s primitive,” he says. “It’s the same thing as if you put a kid in a sandbox. He stacks blocks and he knocks them down and re-stacks them. It’s the same thing: I’m stacking blocks. I’m making a business. I’m building something and when I feel it’s completely built, or I’m bored building it, I’ll build something else.”

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I always enjoy reading one of his interviews, and these were no exception. He's so candid, which when you consider how carefully honed and managed his image is, comes as something of a surprise if you stop and think about it.

Like, his answers aren't canned, and they don't come across as typically PR approved pretty words. Even designers who have staked less and accomplished a fraction of what he has wouldn't admit that they were wrong or failed at something in such a matter-of-fact way. I honestly can't think of another instance of a designer who would freely say something like that about their own work, let alone speak of it so frankly.

And sure, it's taken close to a decade, but finally hearing him say what most of the industry has been saying or thinking in regards to Gucci was priceless. I'm pretty sure an angel got its wings.

You need to move fashion forward when there's a reason to move fashion forward - Tom Ford

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After reading his interviews and that NYtimes article about his post in his website (where he is explaining the process of the ss15), i must admit that to me, he is more relevant than ever.
The brand Tom Ford is just 9 years old and it's very impressive to see his journey.

I think that it must be hard to own your heritage when the brand you left is still living under it. It is obvious that Frida is still copying his work but it is even more frustrating to see that he can't reference himself without being called "uninspired".

I agree with Vanessa F who said that he pioneers what fashion designers are today. I repeat it often but for me, Celine by Phoebe is exactly to the 2010's what Gucci by Tom Ford was in the 90's/00's.

IMO, Tom is in the same league as someone like Alaia but it seems like he's still trying to find the right direction for his Women's RTW.

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