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Designer Days – The Fantastic Mr Ford

Tom Ford — fashion designer and film director, sex symbol and family man — has made a career of upending expectations. Take his revival of Gucci, one of the great fashion success stories of our era. The Florentine leather goods company, which was founded in 1921 and later expanded into accessories and clothing, had been a favourite of the jet set and Hollywood elite from the 1950s through the 1970s. But the brand was close to insolvency when the Texas-born Ford took over as creative director in 1994.Coming o the early ’90s recession and the AIDS crisis, anti-fashion was all the rage: Remember the waif, the grunge look, deconstruction, and heroin chic? Ford, then 33, ri ed through the company’s archives (“a single cardboard box,” as he later recalled) and through his own memories, conjuring images of sexed-up glamour from a few misbegotten years he spent running around in New York: Warhol and the Factory, Halston and his girls (“the Halstonettes”), living it up in the late ’70s at Studio 54. At the 1995 MTV Awards, somebody asked Madonna — clad in a shiny teal blouse, which was unbuttoned to below her bra, and sleek satin hip-huggers — what she was wearing. “Gucci, Gucci, Gucci,” she replied, and a star was born. Soon Ford’s beautifully cut velvet suits with wide lapels, narrow waists, ared trousers, and his sparkling (barely there) column dresses, began showing up on the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, and Gwyneth Paltrow. By 1999, the company was worth more than R73 billion, making it among the most pro table luxury brands in the world. Consider A Single Man (2009), Ford’s rst foray as a lm director, after some 15 years spent dressing worldwide lovers of luxury and stars on the red carpet through his work at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. (Ford and his champion and business partner, Domenico De Sole, then head of the Gucci Group, added the storied Parisian fashion house to the Group’s portfolio in 2000.) Based on the eponymous novel by Christopher Isherwood, the lm follows a day in the life of a British professor at a Southern California college, a classic outsider who has recently lost his long-time romantic partner in a tragic accident. Heady material, some thought, for a fashion designer to tackle; Hollywood insiders may have rolled their eyes at what appeared to be a vanity project. But Ford made a widely acclaimed lm about grief and love, eliciting stunning performances from both his friend and muse, Julianne Moore, and the lm’s star, Colin Firth, earning the latter an Oscar nomination. Through his own label, Tom Ford (cofounded with De Sole in 2005, after both men left the Gucci Group in a dispute over creative control), Ford has clothed everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama (on a visit to Buckingham Palace) to our own Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel. The celebrities crowding the front row of his Autumn/Winter 2015 show — held, unconventionally, in Los Angeles just days before the Oscars — included Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Beyoncé, and Jay Z, whose hit single, named after the designer, celebrates the “high” obtained via Ford’s impeccable menswear. ■

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