Tom Ford staged his latest launch in Paris on Thursday night, and got heavy Hollywood back up for the event.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Liz Hurley, Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigneur showed up for the Continental launch of his updating of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew Amber Nude. This marked stage number two in the rebirth of Ford as a designer brand in his own right and not, as before at Gucci, the best-paid hired gun in fashion. Stage one was Tom’s presentation of his eyewear line last month in Paris.
It also underlined that Ford’s return to luxury completely inverts the traditional career trajectory and growth plan of building a designer label. That usually means creating a fashion collection, staging a show, scoring a ready-to-wear license, opening a boutique and, if all that works and generations heat and attention, finally making money by putting your name on all sorts of licenses – like accessories, scents and eyewear.
Ford, in short, has launched his own brand by doing it exactly the other way around. And, judging from a free wheeling conversation with Ford in Paris on Thursday, that’s something he gets quite a kick out of.
“I must be one of the only designers who has had the ability to do it. I am well known, and people know my taste and style. This gave me the ability to launch a company without any outside investors,” explained Ford, who hosted an apres dinner for 25 at Caviar Kaspia. Catherine Deneuv and Elizabeth Saltzmann joined him for the meal of Breton Lobster and beluga.
The Sante Fe, Texas-born design star does have one partner, Domenico De Sole, his partner during their extraordinarily successful rein at Gucci, where they build a red ink spilling brand into a three-billion dollar luxury group in barely a decade.
Indeed, one of things that attracted Ford to Estee Lauder was precisely the fact that one family controls the fragrance business.
“I’ve known Lauder family socially for many years, and the fact that it is a family owned business means there is an attention to detail and a passion that, in my view, makes them the perfect partner,” he stresses.
“Plus, as a kid in the US, Estee Lauder really dominated fragrance in the States, so they are really the best. Moreover, I’ve known John Demsey six years now. Matter of fact, I tried to steal him away for Gucci, when we acquired YSL and added a whole lot of fragrance labels. What John did for Mac was incredible, and now he’s the President of Lauder. So, it was really the people,” Tom adds.
Ford’s own fragrance line won’t be out until next fall, as developing your own scent from scratch takes so long.
“You need 18 months to develop your own fragrance, so the Lauders suggested that I take something on the shelf. I liked the idea of Youth Dew, it built Estee Lauder, rather like No 5 built Chanel. And my grandmother wore Youth Dew. That sounds like I made that up but I didn’t. It’s really true,” he stresses.
“I wanted Amber Nude to be lighter, and we went back to IFF the company that developed it in 1953 and revamped and modernized it,” says Ford of the scent, sometimes known as the first oriental scent due to its richer, deeper spicy and woody notes.
Given that his final show at Yves Saint Laurent was Chinese inspired, one wondered if Ford thinks of himself as a modern oriental? “The Chinese aesthetic I have always liked – my new house in London is Chinese Chippendale,” was all he would allow.
For the ad campaign, Ford used one of Lauder’s spokesmodels Carolyn Murphy. “But I wanted to show a different side of her. So Craig McDean made her look very, very sexy. I wanted to see her a little loser for the Estee woman. For me, she is one of the most beautiful women in the world.”
Still, it does seem a tad ironic that one of Ford’s first steps in his new independent career is reviving a 50-year-old perfume.
“My history as a designer is of going in and revamping a brand that exists already. My first foray into something new – will be my own brand,’ he responds.
“Two part, my own fragrance, starts fall 06, when we launch a women’s Tom Ford fragrance, a very tight makeup collection and a group of unisex fragrances. I always loved fragrance. I wear too much. When women embrace me, or give me a kiss, they always say ‘you smell so good,’ which is maybe normal, as I am usually doused in it,” Ford continues.
Ford, ever the gentleman, adamantly refuses to talk about his past at Gucci, the bitter departure, or reveal his opinion of any of his successors. Nonetheless, he bristles at any suggestion that he was anything but successful at anything at Gucci Group.
“I worked in scents for years, relaunched the entire Gucci brand, and its fun. With each Gucci scent we usually won every award there was to win. In the fragrance awards of Fifi, we won several for each scent… Gucci eyewear sold over a million frames a year when I was there, so this was an area where I had real success and know very, very well.,” he underlines.
Returning to his ability to invert the traditional career path for establishing a fashion brand, Ford explains that’s he also taking a new approach to developing a Ford fashion wing.
“In terms of men’s, I need to go away and do some work – after today I go to Tokyo – and then no more interviews for about a year,” he insists.
But before that he has to complete a gig with Vanity Fair magazine,
art directing its Hollywood portfolio, due out before the Oscars. He’s mum about who will be in it, but says the shooting schedule is exhausting. ‘We’ve been everywhere; last two weeks in LA, London this weekend, Spain and Paris. It’s been great fun, but a lot of work.”
In news sure to disappoint fashionistas, Ford has no plans to do a fashion show.
“It’s not part of world I inhabit now. I have no interest in doing one. It’s kind of a counter fashion show my concept. I am a little tired seeing all the same outfits everywhere. I want to create bespoke, private, exclusive – it’s not meant for the masses,” he explains.
He does reveal, however, that all his men’s wear will be manufactured in Italy, very quick turnaround of within four weeks of ordering a suit and with boutiques where experienced tailors who will greet customers. And his collection will include, well, everything – shoes, leather goods, ties, shirts, tennis clothes, knits, cufflinks, formal, white tie, smoking and shooting. And, for Ford fanatics, the good news is that you only have to wait until autumn 2006 when he opens his first boutiques on Madison Avenue.
But, he yelps: “I can’t say more, because otherwise people will start copying my ideas before we have even started them!”