Tom Ford, The Suave Showman, Returns by Bridget Foley
If you were on the show circuit during Tom Ford’s first fashion life, his hiatus from the runway left a big fat void.
During that heady span from fall 1995’s hip-hugger heat to his exit from Gucci Group in 2004, the invitations may have read “Gucci” and “Yves Saint Laurent,” but the swagger, the bravado, the breathy sexual tension were all Ford. The man didn’t invent sexy dressing and it will be around long after his best sexual fantasies are just that. But no one else in recent memory has steamed up the runway more convincingly than he; you typically left his shows more tingly than when you went in. And oh, yes, it wasn’t just for show. Together with Domenico De Sole, Ford built an incredible fashion business where one had not existed before.
These days, the label reads “Tom Ford.” So did the invitations that heralded the designer’s return to a full- scale show, this one at London’s heavily gilded Lancaster House. Though the runway itself was familiar territory, the reaction to the show Ford called “Cross Cultural Multi Ethnic”—code for head-spinning mashes of color, pattern, texture and all-around visual overload—took him by surprise. He expected people to love his Eighties-centric, antiminimalist manifesto. Instead, many in the audience— including critics charged with reviewing the collection—were at first shocked and then utterly perplexed.
Ford discussed that dichotomy and other matters with WWD. Among his points: his expectation that the Tom Ford brand will become a top-five luxury brand globally “certainly within the next 10 years, if not sooner.”
WWD: The audience reaction you felt backstage was very different than what you’d expected. How so?
Tom Ford: I expected a very strong, positive reaction. That’s because I felt absolutely exuberant with that collection. I felt excited about the clothes in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time, and I felt excited about every single piece. I didn’t want to be bored with any single piece. If there was a piece that was even remotely boring, I didn’t want it on that runway. I wanted every single piece to be collectable.
And there is that customer now. There is that customer that pretty much just shops at our level for collectable, amazing pieces. They don’t want ordinary, and in fact, ordinary doesn’t sell for me. For example, the more expensive fragrances are the bestsellers.
WWD: So you expected a very strong reaction.
T.F.: I expected a more positive reaction in a stronger way. And what I got was a sort of stunned reaction. I couldn’t read [it] when people started to come backstage—what they thought. But that simple fact was proof of not getting the reaction that I thought I was going to get. And the reviews were lukewarm. They were not “Oh my God, those are the worst things I’ve ever seen,” but they also weren’t “Oh my God, that was great.” They were sort of old-fashioned reviews, like “Well, there were pink jackets.”
WWD: Descriptives aplenty?
T.F.: I thought, “Are people just trying to be nice because they like that I’m showing in London? Or were people just stunned?” Then when people started to get to Milan, I started to get e-mails from fashion-editor friends, or editors that I’m close enough to that have my personal e-mail address. Some of them were extremely positive. But the whole thing felt a little more silent than I expected it to, because the clothes are not silent.
WWD: Certainly not—at least from the pictures. If you could do it over, would you?
T.F.: I think that I chose the venue inappropriately. It’s hard to not fall back on things that have worked for you in the past and to make those steps toward moving forward. The way I show—I have got to move forward. The space, the room, the boys, the champagne…
WWD: Boys and Champagne.
T.F.: The place that we showed was so opulent. It was a royal palace and Queen Victoria was said to have been jealous of it. It’s in immaculate condition with every bit of gilt in place. That wasn’t enough—I had to line the steps with 75 boys. I had their hair all cut the same way. We had to line them up and cut their hair; of course they had been cast. There were waiters and ushers, and the waiters were all in white jackets and white gloves serving Champagne, serving gin and tonics.
It was in the evening, so when you drove up, the facade was amazing; there were flaming torches. And then the opulence of the rooms, which have amazing chandeliers, which of course we spot-lit, and gilded ceilings. The opulence of the room with the opulence of the clothes, I think it was ultimately just too heavy. Had I shown those same clothes in a stark white environment, I think they would have had a very different reaction.
WWD: But the clothes were shocking in themselves, don’t you think? There was so much going on.
T.F.: There was a lot going on, which I wanted. I did put a card in the seats which no one really read, and some reviewer said she sat on it.
WWD: “Cross Cultural Multi Ethnic?”
T.F.: Yes, which is what it was. I’m not going to say there weren’t any failures. There were maybe two outfits that if I were doing it over again, I would change.