By Laurie Brookins | October 26, 2011 | People
|Tom Ford with A-list fan Rita Wilson at a Tom Ford store opening in Beverly Hills earlier this year|
He strides through the room, shaking hands, kissing the cheek of those he knows and, to those he doesn’t, introducing himself by saying simply, “Hi, I’m Tom,” as though there might be any question on the matter in this intimate gathering of 100-plus of the Las Vegas elite. After all, there may be no more highwattage personality in fashion than Tom Ford: designer of clothes that effortlessly straddle the duality of artful luxe and sexually charged energy, dream maker of luscious campaigns, sizzling magazine covers and a hungrily anticipated feature film, 2009’s A Single Man, which garnered both high critical praise and a healthy roster of nominations. It’s nothing less than utterly refreshing to learn, then, that at this September soirée thrown in his honor at his Crystals boutique, Ford is not sequestered in some corner VIP den inaccessible to all but a select few, but rather that he seems to be relishing his role of consummate party host.
Although the boutique had, by sheer coincidence, opened right around the same time as A Single Man, in December 2009, this was Ford’s first opportunity to experience his Crystals space, only his second freestanding store in the US after New York. Why Las Vegas? “The Vegas customer is international, appreciates high quality and fine craftsmanship, and is not afraid to wear some of our stronger, fashion-forward pieces,” Ford says. “It is very important for me to speak to that customer and have a presence here.”
His Las Vegas location originally had opened as a destination for Ford’s menswear and fragrance lines—think of it as the most elegant haberdashery, featuring rows of tailored suits both pristine and precise, as well as leather accessories you are invited to pick up to feel the velvety skins under your hand. A jewel box of a fragrance room awaits in the back, meanwhile, ready to intoxicate with Ford’s heady mix of signature scents, each bearing seductive names like Noir de Noir or Neroli Portofino.
Glamour Sets the Mood
Of course, this all was envisioned in the days prior to the debut of Ford’s women’s ready-to-wear label, a September 2010 launch that offered every bit the ceremony of a high-profile Hollywood premiere. Only 100 invitees watched as A-listers like Beyoncé and Julianne Moore walked not a red carpet on this night, but a dove-gray runway, each wearing Ford’s vision of “a small capsule collection, shown on the women I find most inspirational.” The clothes exquisitely befit each wearer, from a leopard-print gown on Daphne Guinness to a white tuxedo on Lauren Hutton. After six years of the “When will he?” questions, arising every season since Ford’s 2004 departure from Gucci, it was a fashion moment both seminal and triumphant.
It’s notable that Ford, who narrated the presentation, prefers to think of the event not as a room brimming with boldfaced names, but as a return to something he holds dear. “There is a sense of intimacy that has been lost in fashion over the last two decades, and it is important to me, as a designer, to bring that back,” he says.
“He understands glamour and doesn’t apologize for it,” says actress Rita Wilson, who walked the show in a curve-hugging gown of appliquéed black velvet. “He understands what women want to feel like, that the clothes on a woman’s body must match the feeling of the mood he is creating for his client so that when you put on one of his pieces, you are transported to a place of fantasy, even though you are wearing his clothes in a very real way in the real world.” While Wilson says she found the experience “more nerve-wracking” than any of her film roles—“because it was his world, not one I had much experience in”—she adds without hesitation, “I would do it again in a second if he asked me.”
A velvet and lace look from Fall/ Winter 2011
|Inside the beauty and perfume salon of Tom Ford’s Crystals store|
Real Clothes for Real Women
Because of the promotion and subsequent award-season schedule resulting from A Simple Man, Ford says he had only three months to craft that collection; he enjoyed a bit more luxury of time for his Fall 2011 collection, currently in stores and sharing space with menswear and beauty in that Crystals boutique.
“My first collection was really about returning to womenswear and establishing a framework for what the collection will be,” Ford says. “My second collection is much more developed in its size and scope, yet it is still about individuality. It consists of real clothes for real women. I want my shops to be somewhere a woman knows she can go when she wants a great jacket, a great pair of pants, a beautiful shoe or great bag.”
His Fall collection plays into that idea with what are arguably some of the most sumptuous, tactile pieces to emerge from the season. Tom Ford Fall is a masterful mix of corset-like detailing on high-neck lace dresses, peplums on severely cut sheaths of crimson velvet and stunning tuxedo suiting for evening—the latter referred to in the fashion vernacular simply as a “smoking,” originally coined by Yves Saint Laurent when he famously introduced “Le Smoking” tuxedo dressing for women in 1966 (Ford served as creative director of YSL between 2000 and 2004). He accented these feminine and forward clothes with bold jewelry in hammered gold, velvet sandals that wrap like ribbons around a woman’s foot and handbags such as one particularly Las Vegas-friendly style splashed with gold fringe.
While that high-profile inaugural outing was rooted in defining who Tom Ford is as a womenswear designer, standing on his own and not beholden to a house or label with a DNA built by another, this follow-up indeed is comprised of his vision for crafting the ideal wardrobe. “Every woman needs a perfectly cut, tailored suit for day, a black cocktail dress, a smoking, a perfect pair of pumps with high heels,” he says. “The most important key to being well-dressed, however, is for a woman to wear something that suits her style and body shape. A woman who is confident and knows what looks best will always look great.”
A Fabulous Foray Into Beauty
That philosophy also extends to his growing beauty line: In September, Ford launched a comprehensive 132-piece collection that ranges from cosmetics to skincare and brushes. With beauty counters brimming with choices these days, how did Ford view his collection as a solution? “There are a lot of promises and products out there that you do not even need, so when I started designing the skincare and cosmetics collection, like with anything else I design, I did a lot of research,” he says. “I spent time trying to understand how to compensate for the architecture of the face and designed products that were practical. My formulas are proprietary and really the best that money can buy. The colors are rich and original and the finishes flawless. That is what sets us apart: quality and straight-forward products to help every woman amplify her beauty.”
|A look from Fall/Winter 2011|
Ford appears in the ad campaign with supermodel Lara Stone, whom he calls “graceful and striking, [possessing] an unusual and individual kind of beauty that is rare in today’s world.” His presence in the campaign sparked some conversation, whispers that wondered about the vanity of the man who inserts himself into his ads, but Ford is unapologetic. “I am a very practical and pragmatic person, and the reality is that I am in the ads because I am still in the phase of brand development where I need to make sure that people realize that there is an actual person behind the brand, designing literally everything that we make and creating the language of the brand,” he says. “I am not in the ads because I am vain. A lot of people still do not know who I am, and the product sells better with me in the ads, which we know from the men’s perfume ads that I have appeared in.”
The Ever-Evolving Career
Ford turned 50 in August, an event that tends to inspire men and women alike, regardless of status or profession, to pause for a moment of reflection. One might argue that Ford has been reflecting since his departure from Gucci in 2004, taking his time to build what he wanted to say as an artist of fashion or film. Has that journey resulted in the Tom Ford we see today, a man devoted to openly honest statements and choices, regardless of how they might be perceived in the public eye?
“I am absolutely at that stage,” he says. “I believe in being myself. ‘Vain’ is a funny word. Maybe I have that reputation because there are so many images of me in the press, but it is not like I sit around looking in the mirror, admiring myself. I realize the value of my looks as the physical embodiment of the brand. I am very visual and very critical and very self-critical. If my jacket gets too tight, it doesn’t mean I get another size; it means I eat vegetables that day and go for a run. I am very disciplined, but I don’t think of myself as vain. I think of myself as a realist.”
When Tom Ford joined Gucci in 1990, it was a dusty brand that had been diluted in its perceived value by too much licensing; quite simply, no one cared about the storied Italian label that had seen better days. By 2004, when he exited what ultimately had become the Gucci Group, the company was a global giant valued at $10 billion, with the paramount reason for its monumental turnaround most decidedly rooted in the sensuous luxury that Ford brought to the mix.
It’s telling that, after experiencing the stratospheric highs of the golden Gucci era of the 1990s, the nonstop attention and frenzied, large-scale shows with audiences of 1,000-plus, Ford is both inspired by and wholly content with the notion of building a brand that not only reaches new heights of luxury, but does so on a decidedly intimate level. Asked if he’d ever be interested in once again signing on as the creative director of a house built by another, Tom Ford’s answer is a simple one: “Why? Been there, done that. I have my own brand. Why would I need anything else?”
photograph by sØlve sundsbØ/art + commerce (opener); getty images (wilson)