MILAN, Italy – With a shower of rose petals for his tearful fans, Tom Ford presented his final collection Wednesday night for Gucci, the leather company he turned around 10 years ago to make it one of the most sought-after labels on the global fashion scene.
The 42-year-old American designer, a cult figure among fashion afficionados, is leaving the Gucci group in April after an impasse with the French partner company PPR.
The show’s finale was a series of white jersey gowns, with plunging neckline and daring rear view, subtly held together by a jewel encrusted brooch. These were the same gowns that had sent the-then unknown designer to fashion fame in the early 1990’s. The crowd jumped to their feet in thundering applause.
“You’re free to do what you want to do!” went the runway lyrics as rose petals floated down over his fans. Hugs and kisses abounded.
The success of the Gucci label was a combination of Ford’s talent, his personal charm, and his acute business sense. On the business side, he was flanked by a soft spoken Italian lawyer, Domenico De Sole, CEO of the Gucci company. Together they formed a dynamite team.
“I feel a little sad tonight,” De Sole said before the show in a space in a downtown Milan hotel.
De Sole and Ford split from PPR (Printemps, Pinault, Redoute) in the fall of 2003, after they could not agree on contract renewal terms. The partnership formally ends in April. Neither designer nor businessman have immediate plans for the future.
Ford, who is a Hollywood favorite and was a child actor, in the past has said that he would like to try his hand in the movies, on the directing side.
“I would like to see him in the film business,” said a teary-eyed Dawn Mello, who discovered Ford when she was working for Gucci in the early 1990s.
Ford can take all the time he needs to plan his future. He leaves Gucci as a young, famous and rich man, whose stock options in the company alone are worth over $250 million.
Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday, fellow designer Donatella Versace expressed her regret that Ford was leaving the fashion scene.
“We will miss him,”she said. “He put a lot of energy into Italian fashion.”
For his last Gucci fashion statement, Ford presented wide-sleeved, tiny-waisted jackets with grande dame fox collars, sapphire blue velvet tuxedo jackets over matching see-through lace trousers.
The collection also featured apple-green fringed gowns draped like shawls over the slim silhouette, all worn with towering heels strapped around the ankle.
“This is a great way to begin his new life,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s fashion mentor.