When Tom Ford resigned as creative director of the Gucci Group, loyal fashionistas from W Magazine (“it’s a devastating shake-up”) to money mavens at the Financial Times (“it really feels as if the foundations have been shaken”) all sobbed into their Louis Vuitton hankies and hid their swollen eyes behind oversized Gucci sunglasses. The fashion world hasn’t been this up in arms since we lost Gianni Versace.
Luckily, Tom Ford is alive and well, even if he is fighting with the suits over that silly contract thing. One thing is for certain though, his departure from Gucci marked the end of an era, and quite possibly the end of glamour—Tom Ford’s brand of glamour, anyway—at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses.
Even if the name Tom Ford doesn’t register, you’re probably familiar with the elegant look he singled-handedly created over the past decade. Picture this: It’s the early ’90s and we’re in Paris during the Louis Vuitton runway extravaganza, patiently waiting—in a seat that true fashion devotees would extort, pillage and plunder to have—for the designer du jour to take his final bow. Finally, Tom Ford emerges clad in tailored jeans and jacket, an unbuttoned white shirt, facial stubble, and sipping a martini as he takes his much-anticipated bow. The crowd goes insane.
It’s hard to say if Ford always had this kind of affect on the general population—although it’s easy to picture little girls on the playground twirling endlessly in their frilly dresses to get his attention (nowadays big boys do the same thing).
Tom Ford is known as the epitome of New York chic, but he didn’t bless the city with his presence until he enrolled at NYU as (get this) an art history major. But it wasn’t long before he dropped out and took up interior architecture at Parsons School of Design. He later moved on to finish his studies at Parsons in Paris.
In the years to come he made the transition to Perry Ellis where he took on the position of Design Director and eventually joined the Gucci team as Women’s Wear Designer. He was appointed as Creative Director of Gucci after only two short years.
Early in 2000, the Gucci Group acquired Yves Saint-Laurent Couture and Sanofi Beauté. As Creative Director of Yves Saint Laurent Couture and its perfume products, Ford also worked with the many creative teams of YSL to define and maintain the overall image and positioning of the brand.
His visionary look of the fashion industry has been the center of attention for as long as most of us can remember and he has won countless awards like VH-1’s Best New Designer in 1995, CFDA’s International Designer of the Year in 1996 and a Commitment to Life Award from AIDS Project Los Angeles for Gucci’s charitable work in support of people with HIV and AIDS.
Ironically, Maurizio Gucci wanted to give Ford the old heave-ho back in the early ’90s because he thought the young designer was “too trendy.” Turns out Ford’s brilliant overhaul of Gucci—$200 million in revenue magically bloomed into a $3 billion global fashion empire—was just the beginning. He also set the gold standard for brand-building. It was just after his Fall/Winter 2004-05 show in Paris that Ford hung up his hat at Gucci and the aforementioned chasm of the fashion world was created.
In a world infatuated with celebrity and status—epitomized by the likes of South Beach—the fundamental idea behind Ford’s work was “Wear Gucci and Be a Superstar.” Devotees around the globe awaited each new season with baited breath to see what the new “It” item was going to be. It was a season-defining, photographed-to-death trend.
When he designed a dress, it was photographed for every magazine, paraded down a red carpet by an A-list celebrity, photographed some more and then knocked off before it even made it into stores.
Every trend worth following appeared on Tom Ford’s runway first. The wildly popular (please won’t they finally just go away) hip-hugging, thong-revealing pants, sleekly tailored suits, jersey dresses, beaded jeans, sheer baby-doll tops, stovepipe trousers, mod mini-dresses—all can be traced right back to Ford.
He aided in the invention of the metrosexual by introducing American men to the slightly more flamboyant and creative way of dressing that his European counterpart has enjoyed for decades. He even showed the masses how make the impossibly stuffy, borderline nerdy blazer and jeans combo chic.
But Ford’s influence surpassed slickly tapered suits, slinky dresses and seasonal It bags, affecting the business of fashion in a way that no designer before him ever has. Don’t believe it? Well, in the last decade it was his logo-covered accessories that defined style and his big-business marketing skills that were mimicked by everyone in the industry. He also raised the standard for designers, not only in their work, but the consumer came to expect designers to be as photogenic and glamorous as Ford (and the celebrities they dress).
Paradoxically, it was easy to see a finer hand at work in Ford’s final collections for both Gucci and YSL. By recycling his most sought after styles of the past 10 years he in turn perfected them. In a way he seemed freer—working as though he had nothing to lose. It’s this creative freedom—one known to a select few—that set his iconic status in fashion history stone. Ford once said, “Real fashion change comes from real changes in real life. Everything else is just decoration.”
At 42, Ford is taking a break from fashion—at least for now. “With fashion, I feel that I’ve done it,” Ford said. “That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t do it more and I couldn’t do it better, that I couldn’t do it longer. But I feel like I’ve been very successful at it. But I do feel that perhaps I should challenge myself in a new way.”
Numerous rumors circulated concerning who would take his place at the helm of the Gucci Group. Names like Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney were thrown out as possible candidates, but in the end, John Ray was selected to fill the creative director position.
Ford hasn’t wasted much time making his mark elsewhere, most notably in Hollywood. A few months back, 800 of his closest friends (Hollywood personalities with whom he has built up a personal following over the years) gathered to watch as he was presented the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award.
As of May 2004, he joined the infamous auction house Sotheby’s in Paris where he will advise on a broad range of topics such as business and marketing opportunities.
While Ford is the first to admit he’s never sure what’s next on his already impressive agenda, he has announced he’ll be directing a remake of the epic film, Spartacus, to be filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, according to La Repubblica. He also has an acting part in The Great New Wonderful World, which is in post-production now and is due out in 2005.
Still, no need to pin Tom Ford as the next Joel Schumacher because as Ford announced to Women’s Wear Daily, he has his own fashion line slated for unveiling next year. And with that pronouncement, the fashion world uttered a collectively sigh of relief.
We’ll all just have to wait and see what Tom Ford will do next.