BY LAURIE BROoKINS | November 1, 2011 | Style & Beauty
Ruby ankle-tie sandals
Gold fringe shoulder bag
Yellow and black lace satin-stitch embroidered evening dress
Wide hammered-gold cuff with amber stones
Black satin-stitch embroidered T-shirt with emerald-green lace bra, black guipure lace skirt, and emerald green feather and lizard clutch
By now the tale has taken on somewhat mythical proportions—then again, if one is to identify the essential chapters in the life of Tom Ford, a climactic moment most assuredly would be the September 2010 launch of his womenswear label, an event that was equal parts highwattage Hollywood and hush-hush secrecy.
Only 100 invitees watched as A-listers like Beyoncé and Julianne Moore walked not a red carpet on this New York night, but a dove-gray runway, each wearing Ford’s vision of “a small capsule collection, shown on the women I find most inspirational.” The clothes exquisitely befit each wearer, from a leopard-print gown on Daphne Guinness to a white tuxedo on Lauren Hutton. After six years of the “When will he?” questions, arising every season since Ford’s 2004 departure from Gucci, it was a fashion moment both seminal and triumphant.
|Scarlet velvet single-breasted tuxedo jacket, wide-leg trousers, black floral Chantilly lace T-shirt, and a black crystal envelope bag|
It’s notable that Ford, who narrated the presentation, prefers to think of the event not as a room brimming with boldfaced names, but as a return to something he holds dear. “There is a sense of intimacy that has been lost in fashion over the last two decades, and it is important to me, as a designer, to bring that back,” he says. Thus, you arrive at the dichotomy of Tom Ford, designer of clothes that effortlessly straddle the duality of artful luxe and sexually charged energy, dream maker of luscious campaigns, sizzling magazine covers, and a hungrily anticipated feature film, 2009’s A Single Man, which garnered both high critical praise and a healthy roster of nominations. Arguably the most coveted designer working today, Ford might have anything for the asking, and yet what he seeks is the private, personal attention and elegance of fashion’s bygone days. Amber Valletta has witnessed firsthand the evolution of Tom Ford, having played a role in another essential chapter, his 1995 Gucci show, roundly agreed to be both a star-making turn for Ford and the irrefutable comeback of the storied Italian label. “I’m not one to dwell on things, but I recognize the importance of that moment,” Valletta says. “Fashion has changed so drastically since then. But we all knew when we saw those clothes that they were special. We all looked so incredibly sensual and powerful, and there just wasn’t anything like it at the time. I remember walking that runway and feeling the power of that room.”
Valletta notes it was power of a different kind when Ford invited her to take part in his September 2010 debut, which also boasted a full-circle vibe. “He said, ‘It makes sense that you’re here, you’re a good-luck charm,’” she remembers. “That show was extremely personal, and you were so close to the audience that they could reach out and touch your clothes. And Tom announced all of us, just like old-school runway.”
Due to the promotion and subsequent award-season schedule resulting from A Single Man, Ford had only three months to craft his women’s debut; he enjoyed a bit more luxury of time for his Fall/Winter 2011 collection, which arrives this month in a new shop-in-shop at Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour. “My first [women’s] collection was really about returning to womenswear and establishing a framework for what the collection will be,” Ford says. “My second collection is much more developed in its size and scope, yet it is still about individuality. It consists of real clothes for real women…. I want my shops to be somewhere a woman knows she can go when she wants a great jacket, a great pair of pants, a beautiful shoe, or great bag.”
Fall/Winter plays into that idea with some of the most sumptuous, tactile pieces to emerge from the season, a masterful mix of corset-like detailing on high-neck lace dresses, peplums on severely cut sheaths of crimson velvet, and stunning tuxedo suiting for evening—the latter referred to in the fashion vernacular simply as a “smoking,” a term originally coined by Yves Saint Laurent when he famously introduced “Le Smoking” tuxedo dressing for women in 1966 (Ford served as creative director of YSL between 2000 and 2004). He accented these feminine and forward clothes with bold jewelry in hammered gold, gold-fringed handbags, and velvet sandals that wrap like ribbons around a woman’s foot.
While his inaugural outing defined who Tom Ford is as a womenswear designer, standing on his own and not beholden to a house with DNA built by another, this follow-up illustrates his highly pragmatic vision for crafting the ideal wardrobe. “Every woman needs a perfectly cut, tailored suit for day, a black cocktail dress, a smoking, a perfect pair of pumps with high heels,” he says.
“Tom has evolved with the times, but he has not left who he is behind; that’s what makes him so special,” Valletta says. “He has a very clear viewpoint of women and design, and he’s held fast to that, even as you see his ideas expand. His clothes have become more intelligent, sharper and more focused, and more exquisite.”
That idea also extends to his growing beauty line: In September, Ford launched a comprehensive 132-piece collection that ranges from cosmetics to skincare and brushes, as well as three additions to his fragrance line: Jasmin Rouge, Violet Blonde, and Santal Blush. With beauty counters brimming with choices these days, how does Ford view his collection as a solution? “There are a lot of promises and products out there that you do not even need, so when I started designing the skincare and cosmetics collection, like with anything else I design, I did a lot of research,” he says. “I spent time trying to understand how to compensate for the architecture of the face and designed products that were practical. My formulas are proprietary and really the best that money can buy. The colors are rich and original and the finishes flawless. That is what sets us apart: quality and straightforward products to help every woman amplify her beauty.”
Ford appears in the ad campaign with supermodel Lara Stone, whom he calls “graceful and striking, [possessing] an unusual and individual kind of beauty that is rare in today’s world.” His presence in the campaign sparked some conversation, whispers that wondered about the vanity of the man who inserts himself into his ads, but Ford is unapologetic. “I am a very practical and pragmatic person, and the reality is that I am in the ads because I am still in the phase of brand development where I need to make sure that people realize that there is an actual person behind the brand, designing literally everything that we make and creating the language of the brand,” he says. “I am not in the ads because I am vain. A lot of people still do not know who I am, and the product sells better with me in the ads, which we know from the men’s perfume ads that I have appeared in.”
Ford turned 50 in August, an event that tends to inspire men and women alike, regardless of status or profession, to pause for a moment of reflection. One might argue that Ford has been reflecting since his departure from Gucci in 2004, taking his time to build what he wanted to say as an artist of fashion or film. True to form, every step is on his own terms: His womenswear shows, which have shifted from New York to London, continue to be shrouded in secrecy, with photos not released until the clothes arrive in stores; he is likewise mum on his followup to A Single Man, though he does allow that by mid-summer 2012, “If I am lucky, we might also be talking about my next film.”
When Ford joined Gucci in 1990, it was a dusty brand that had been diluted in its perceived value by too much licensing. Quite simply, no one cared about the Italian label that had seen better days. By 2004, when he exited what had become the Gucci Group, the company was a global giant valued at $10 billion. The paramount reason for its monumental turnaround was rooted in the sensuous luxury that Ford brought to the mix. It’s telling that, after experiencing the stratospheric highs of Gucci’s 1990s golden era, the nonstop attention and frenzied, large-scale shows, Ford is both inspired by and content with the notion of building a brand that reaches new heights of luxury, but on a decidedly intimate level. Asked if he’d ever be interested in once again signing on as the creative director of a house built by someone else, Tom Ford’s answer is straightforward: “Why? Been there, done that. I have my own brand. Why would I need anything else?”
photograph by simon perry