As Tom Ford turned fifty-five last week, Ira Solomatina looks back at his career, ahead of the live streaming of his AW’16 runway show in New York today
The Texas-born designer was appointed Creative Director of Gucci in 1994, when the brand was going through its hardest phase – previous chief designer Dawn Mello had just walked out of Gucci to join Bergdorf Goodman, and the sales were dropping.
Known for leather goods, scarves and slightly anachronistic knits, Gucci hardly had a story to tell, and the newly appointed Creative Director was given a total carte blanche. Vogue’s Sarah Mower remembers that the publicist for Gucci was begging fashion editors to attend Ford’s debut womenswear show – by 1995 journalists were begging to be let in.
In the 1990s Tom Ford presented a sequence of strong collections: the famous sensual white dresses with provocative cut-outs from 1995 were followed by the 1996 combined show with hyper-sexy outfits for women, sleek suits and hip-hugging trousers for men. Models of both sexes were donning strings making some conservative fashion editors blush.
Gucci became sexy. On and off the runway as seduction permeated Gucci’s ads. In collaboration with Carine Roitfeld and Mario Testino, Ford produced scandalous campaigns that earned him the reputation of fashion’s greatest provocateur. Despite severe criticism Ford’s policy at Gucci proved effective – the sales were boosting, the buzz was escalating and Ford’s role at the newly founded Gucci Group conglomerate was increasingly important.
When Gucci Group acquired Yves Saint Laurent in 2000 Ford was invited to reinvent the brand much to displeasure of its founder. “The poor man does what he can”, acidly commented Saint Laurent on Ford’s overtly sexy designs for the ready-to-wear line. The press and the customers, on the other hand, loved Ford’s sensual take on YSL’s legacy.
Break-up with Gucci
Ford who always was more than just a designer at Gucci was expected to become brand’s CEO in 2006. Instead, he left Gucci Group in 2004 unable to meet the demands of one of the conglomerate’s biggest shareholder.
The divorce between the designer and the conglomerate lead to an ugly affair – public accusations were coming from both sides while sordid details were relished by the press. Later, in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily Ford said: “Money had absolutely nothing to do with it at all. It really was a question of control”.
Breaking from the company, Ford pursued his established image in the Fashion industry to launch his own brand and direct the critically acclaimed “Single Man”, leaving behind Gucci who once again faced stagnant sales and struggled to fill Ford’s position as creative director.
As Gucci Museum opened in 2011 in Florence, it became obvious that Gucci Group was still holding a grudge against Tom Ford. While the exhibition included signature Gucci florals, red carpet dresses by the then chief designer Frida Giannini, and leather bags from Gucci’s early years, the Ford decade was simply air brushed out of the brand’s history.
In June 2016 the museum opened two additional rooms – dedicated solely to Tom Ford, they contain exhibits hand-picked by Alessandro Michele himself – slithery white dresses, chubby colourful furs and the scandalous ads that have acquired an almost cult status. It is remarkable, that Michele, when he joined the brand, was interviewed by Ford and though his almost nerdy aesthetic is strikingly different from Ford’s bold style, he accepts that there should be different aspects of one brand represented.
After all, it is only fair that Gucci finally did justice to Ford’s contribution to the brand’s history. If not for Ford there would have been no Gucci as we know it today. There, perhaps, would also be no Gucci Group, which now transformed into the influential Kering. Ford might have imbued Gucci with sexiness, but more importantly, his tenure at Gucci marked the beginning of the era of star designers, powerful creative directors, whose responsibilities span over designing and marketing.
Ford To Come
Taking leave of Gucci’s helm, Tom Ford launched his own label in 2006 with menswear, beauty, eyewear and accessories and has continued to be at the forefront of fashion debuts when showing his collections each season. Ford followed an unconventional direction to debut his first womenswear collection as a private intimate affair with no photography allowed. It took place on a Sunday evening in 2011 in his New York Flagship store, the collection modelled by an ultra-exclusive catwalk of his close friends including Julianne Moore, Daphne Guinness, Chanel Iman and Beyoncé to name some.
Intrigued by the concept of using the web as a format for non-traditional fashion presentation, last year Tom Ford produced fashion film with Nick Knight, director of SHOWstudio, to debut his SS16 collection in conjunction with Paris Fashion Week . The ability to incorporate visual and design elements beyond the limitation of the traditional catwalk was something that excited Tom Ford. “The video captures the spirit of the collection in a way that a filmed traditional show would not have”. Filmed and produced in LA, it features Lady Gaga vocal cover of Nile Rodger’s ‘70s hit for Chic “I Want Your Love”, with Lady Gaga herself shimmering down a runway performing alongside Ford’s selection of his favorite models Lexi Boling, Xiao Wen Ju, Lida Fox and Lucky Blue Smith.
You can watch Tom Ford’s AW16 runway show in New York at tomford.com