(NEW YORK) It’s official: Tom Ford is back. The man who created his own definition of sexy unveiled his Madison Avenue flagship on Monday at a private press preview, and the three-story, 8,680-square-foot store is, to say the least, impressive—remarkable, to be sure, in that it came together in less than a year (crews worked up until 7:00 a.m. the morning of his preview), but more so in how it puts Ford back on track to reclaim his crown in fashion’s thorny circles. The Daily’s Jim Shi sat down with Ford three years after the Gucci Group expat’s 10-year contract expired, and the Texan spoke candidly about his retail revolution at age 45.
OK, Tom, you’re back. Why now?
“I wanted to create a product that I felt there was a real niche in the market for. When I left Gucci, I thought, ‘What am I going to wear?’ I tried to find suits from other competitive brands, but they were either too trendy or the quality wasn’t right or the fabric wasn’t right, so I started having my things made at a tailor in London—which, if you’ve ever aspired to that and you finally get to that moment in time, it’s quite dry. You’re put in a little room with a stool, someone yanks a curtain, and you feel like you’re in boarding school and someone’s going to spank you if something isn’t right. It’s not what I think a lot of people fantasize about. So this is, in a sense, something I don’t think men have had.”
Who’s your male muse?
“I think you’re looking at him. I think it’s me.”
What characteristics embody your new man?
“He’s urban, sophisticated, 28 to 75 years old—somebody who appreciates detail, quality, and cut. The kind of man who might have gone to his own tailor; the kind of man who might dress at one of the highest levels of one of our competitors. I happen to think, at this moment in time, what is fashion for men is this quite classic, chic, somewhat conservative clothing. To me, this was a reaction to something maybe I helped create or was certainly a part of…and that was constantly changing and evolving trends that started leading me to feel quite empty. What I want in my own clothes is quality, and I want to feel and understand why things are costing what they are. It isn’t for everyone; it’s dressing a certain limited part of the population, but we do want to then service the population and satisfy all their dressing needs.”
And the pieces are timeless?
“I would like to think our jacket shoulders and shapes last three years. A lot of clothes are seasonless, and we won’t be marking them down. On top of that, there’ll be little bit of frosting each season to set the mood. Some of the frosting is stuck in customs; we have great swimsuits and things this season with quite bold patterns that look a little bit like the pocket squares that are downstairs. But that’s the frosting on the base of the tailoring and coat shapes and more classic patterns. Most people don’t know that though Zegna manufactures our suits and ready-to-wear, most of the fabrics are developed in house exclusively.”
What’s your marketing strategy, aside from a campaign?
“Well, there won’t be any runway shows, at least not in the moment. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll be dressing our favorite men all over the world, and I suppose that’s really the way we get press. We do have a press collection. We have a press office here, London, Japan, and of course we’ll be showing the clothes like we did on models. I think runway shows—and I’m not criticizing them, as I did well by runway shows—I didn’t want to be pushed to do things to push the silhouette dramatically each season. You can’t capture that in a runway show.”
Which celebrities do you have in mind to dress?
“Oh, I don’t like to talk about those things. I think this whole celebrity thing is part of the problem. It should be about the clothes. It’s so formulaic, the fashion world today. You get a celebrity, stick them in front of some wallpaper, you dress them in a dress, they get photographed, and the pictures run all around the world. I’m just really tired of it. I lived through a moment, so I didn’t want to come back to fashion if I did it the same way. That wouldn’t be exciting, which is why I haven’t done women’s; I haven’t figured out how to change that yet. This feels new to me. I realized, being away, that I am naturally a designer. It frustrated me that I didn’t have something to build or make or design. When I figure out a way to add a different dimension that isn’t there, then I’ll do that. Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren both started in men’s wear; both built huge businesses in men’s wear. Getting your company up and running, even with every advantage I have, is still a struggle. I want to devote at least the next three years without thinking about women’s.”
What about the Tom Ford woman?
“For women, you’ve had companies like Chanel in the past, where you could find a very high level of ready-to-wear and then have things made, more in the old-fashioned service of couture than what it is now—Chanel used to have 800 people sewing, and you would go there to have your wardrobe made. Men have never really had that, so it’s a hybrid between a tailor and a fashion company. [Incidentally, both Ford’s publicists, Lisa Schiek and Shirin von Wulffen, were clad in Chanel ensembles during the preview.]
What was your ultimate goal in building this store?
“It was to create an environment for men to shop in where they would be given a really high level of service and a high-quality product. I don’t love shopping, personally. I want to be able to come to one place, sit down for two hours, and order all my clothes for the season. In a way, I built a store for myself.”
Walk me through.
“Ground floor is all ready-to-wear. I wanted it to feel quite residential; I wanted it to feel like a house. The [Lucio] Fontana is from my own collection; we commissioned Claude Lalanne to make this desk in bronze, and the chair was Lalanne that I already had. So, as a customer, you walk in and you’re greeted by a lovely young lady. You’ll be encouraged to make appointments with your fitter. We’ll be closed to the public in the morning and open only by appointment only from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. We’re open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then closed again from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. But if you come in and don’t have an appointment, we will gladly help you. We have butlers that really are butlers and housekeepers that are part of this—it’s run like a house. We don’t do your laundry or pressing, but we have a bar and they’ll get you lunch catered from outside. The private fitting salons, you can stay in there all day. The two fireplaces work, but unfortunately, you can’t light a fire in a retail space.”
And upstairs houses bespoke and made-to-order.
“We have a press office attached upstairs. We have a custom knitwear program to do sleeve lengths and initials on cashmere. We developed our own knitted socks; we can even do hand-knitted socks for you with your initials. We have some that are stuck in customs that have a tattoo of your name and a sort of naked girl posing, which is quite cute. Then we have a shirt room: 340 colors, 35 fabrics, seven different collars, three different cuffs in just ready-to-wear.”
So, your goal was to make it somewhat cozy, but still sleek…
“It’s residential in that it matches the lifestyle of our clients and their aspirations. I think the human touch we’ve lost a little bit. I go into stores and I can’t get anyone to help me. I make phone calls and I get voicemail. Those kind of things drive me nuts. Service, for me, is one of the things we’ve lost in the world.”
And beyond the shoe room…
“Yes, here are the fragrances and eyewear. The fragrances were not meant to be mass fragrances; they’re quite pure and meant for connoisseurs. They’re completely developed fragrances; they’re not just one-off notes. Because of the architecture of the bottle, we can do a fragrance for a customer. It can be Eau de John, for example. We’re also launching exclusively this week at Bergdorf Goodman, so we can do a custom retail fragrance. Also stored here are sunglasses and eyewear, and sight glasses. We have an agreement with an optician down the road that if you buy your glasses here, we’ll put your prescription in.”
I’ve noticed your offering of ties is bordering obsessive-compulsive.
“You go to buy ties from some of our competitors and they offer only three ties for each season, whereas we really have every color you could want. We have three different width of ties for ready-to-wear, and up in made-to-order we have seven different widths. We go from Prince Michael of Kent—that’s the size of a fist—to something much, much skinnier.”
Tell me about working with William Sofield on the store.
“One of my favorite periods for classic tailoring has always been the ‘30s and ‘40s, so it seemed right. A lot of my favorite furnishings, for example the Eileen Gray chair upstairs, is from that period. One room on the main level is an exact copy of my living room down to the chairs and the mirror. Richard [Buckley] is not going to be very happy when he sees this! But going back, the ‘70s were about the ‘30s, and a lot of what I did at Gucci was based on the ‘70s, so maybe the ‘30s was the root for all of this. It was an elegant period, and it was right architecturally for this building.”
Let’s talk about the art in your store.
“There’s the Lucio Fontana in the entryway in stainless steel, Claude Lalanne desk and chair in the entrance, urns at the end of one room that are 1925 French, and the [plaster and marble dust] Jean Arp at the base of the staircase is mine from our London house.”
How is your painstaking attention to detail reflected here?
“I designed the lamps here in the store [originally] for my home in L.A., so I copied them for my store. The beaver-fur carpet I have in my house in London. And macassar ebony [lavishly used throughout the store] is one of my all-time favorite materials. The fixtures in the private dressing rooms are made from the same foundry that made Diego Giacometti’s pieces. The walls are perforated suede. It’s really everything personal.
You were once quoted as saying Gucci is horizontal and YSL is vertical. What is Tom Ford?
“I would say there’s certainly a bit of horizontal here as well. I think my own personal taste is very low and lean. I like to be comfortable. It’s hard to sit up straight, but it’s more of a sprawl. I suppose it could be said it’s what I like in everything. I like really luxurious things, but I don’t want them to be stuffy; they should be lived in. I think that that’s probably the sexy and sensual part of my personality, that there’s a relaxed quality to it. People often come to my house and they’re surprised that it’s not cold.”
How are men evolving in their levels of discretion?
“Men becoming smarter about what they want. It’s the same thing for everything happening in the world. You couldn’t buy arugula in Texas when I was a kid; now you can. The more you learn and are exposed, the more you want them—they’re almost fetishized. Functioning button holes start to stand for something more than button holes that don’t. I think there was a time when everyone knew about it; you just would not have worn a button hole that didn’t functioning because all button holes were functioning! In a way, it’s a bit of a throwback to an appreciation of something we haven’t lost.”
And some serious time was put into developing the packaging.
“We have a printer that, when you buy a shirt from us, will print your name out in cursive writing/calligraphy across the box. Each store will have its own labels, and the merchandise will be different in different stores. This store was built in the ‘30s; it’s meant to feel like a men’s club in a sense, a bit of what a Hollywood tailor haberdashery would’ve felt like in the ‘30s. The product will be adopted a little bit based on the market—if you go shopping in Dubai and you come back with a caftan from Dubai, it will say ‘Tom Ford Dubai.’”
Speaking of which, where else are you opening stores? Are you increasing your number of distribution points?
“We’re going to have limited distribution and franchise partners. We have plans for what I call ‘accelerated development’ that we’ll be announcing soon.”
Tell me about your brand’s label.
“I wanted an old-fashioned label. It’s all silk; we’re one of the last people to do that. It’s silk ribbon, cut and folded under, and then hand-tacked. You want to think of something that’s beautiful and connotes the quality of what it’s going on, but at the same time a little bit different, so I placed it beneath my Blackberry pocket, since that’s the pocket I think most people are going to use today, more than even reaching for their wallets.”
And Tom Ford accessories?
“There’ll be everything. Umbrellas, walking sticks, canes, custom eyewear—18-karat gold and ebony, 18-karat gold and palasander. I call them gifts for the man who has everything. Our shoes, starting on average at $1,100 for ready-to-wear, are competitively priced. Our competitors in this category would be Berluti and John Lobb; the shoes take three weeks to make. There are also hats, which are the only things made in England; everything else comes from Italy. It’s really a store I would like to have filled with things I like, so I hope other people like the same things.”
Did you approach your upper-echelon price point with any reservations? [Made-to-measure suits start at $5,000; ready-to-wear suits at $3,200; shoes, at $1,100; shirts, at $350; ties, at $165; and socks, at $75.]
“I probably should have. It was really intuitive and cerebral—a combination, because intuitively this is what I’m interested in: the best. And however much that costs is fine as long as the customer can sense and see that it’s the best. But if you look at what’s happening in the world, rich customers are getting richer. Emerging markets are developing quite rapidly. I believe that the high end is the place to be, or the low end. I think those things in the middle are the things that don’t interest me. I wear Levi’s and T-shirts from the Gap, and then if I wear a jacket, I want to wear a beautiful jacket. I don’t really understand that middle level.”
Speaking of which, what’s your take on doing a bridge line? Will there ever be a Tom by Tom Ford line?
“Oh, I just don’t care about that at this moment in my life. I don’t care about that customer. I just don’t care. I care about authenticity. I’m interested in doing the best or I’m interested in doing something that could be broad but good design. And that’s very interesting too. I haven’t done that yet. High design at a price point everyone can afford is very interesting too, because it is the best: it’s the best in term of design that it can be and in term of industrial manufacturing. And then this is the best in terms of handmade and the highest level you can have. That’s fun.”
What would you say to the average Joe who isn’t so versed in fashion and walks by and is intimidated by your store?
“If you’re intimidated and you do care about quality, you should come in. Our service is not intimidating; it may look intimidating, but it will be very warm. Then again, we’re not for everyone. If someone doesn’t appreciate quality and cut and fabric, then we’re probably not the right place for them.”
What should every Tom Ford man own?
“A well cut jacket. Whether it’s a suit—which is how I prefer to wear jackets—or just a well cut jacket. An evening suit is important if you live in New York.”
And the men’s fragrance?
“It will be launched in the fall. I’ve already selected a name, but I can’t talk about it.”
Has Tom Ford Hollywood gone away?
“I have a movie ready to go, so we’ll see. You talk about it, and if it doesn’t happen in six months, then people say you’ve failed.”
What do you want people to step away from your store with?
“Quality. I want them to think, ‘Wow, that is beautifully done. That is a beautiful jacket. The fabric is beautiful; the cut is beautiful; the service was perfect.’”