We know the fashion world. It is all about impact, flashbulbs, shock tactics and mass exposure, right? Well, no: not any more. Tom Ford, arch-manipulator of the scene, is about to take his industry back to the sedate glamour that used to surround the great fashion houses of Paris and Milan.
Tomorrow, somewhere in London, in front of just a few guests, Ford will modestly present his new collection of womenswear. There will be no photographers, no bloggers and no live streaming. All the American fashion designer and film director is promising for this, his first foray into London fashion week, is some “pretty clothes”. Yet the buzz surrounding Ford’s collection is already rivalling interest in the sell-out show of the festival – last night’s launch of the next collection by Issa, Kate Middleton’s favourite label.
“No one has said what will happen tomorrow, but I imagine there’ll just be a presentation rather than a fashion show,” said Charlie Porter, deputy editor of Fantastic Man magazine. “It feels more like Ford is inviting friends and people he thinks will want to see the clothes, rather than this being an aggressive or exclusive policy.”
A policy of restricted access is hardly original. All designers manufacture a drama of limited invitations and competitive seating, but do so in front of a posse of photographers and TV cameras so that images of the clothes are widely seen. Ford, however, has come up with a new “old-fashioned” model of promotion.
He first tried it last September in New York, when he invited 100 guests to a show that featured 32 models. Among those strutting down the runway were the singer Beyoncé and film stars Julianne Moore and Emmanuelle Seigner.
Ford said his intention was to re-create an excitement that had disappeared. “I want fashion to be fun again, like it was in the 1960s,” he said. “You couldn’t wait to get the clothes and put them on, and I think we’ve lost that.” He didn’t allow pictures, he explained, because fashion had become over-exposed as a result of the internet and a preoccupation with celebrities.
That may have been a little rich from someone who had just got the world’s biggest pop star to model for him, but then Ford is more than a little rich. His wealth has been estimated at £120m, and it is perhaps his astuteness as a businessman that has earned him such respect. “He is a consummate professional,” said Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, “and he knows that the fashion industry is exactly that: an industry.”
Porter said that London stands to benefit from Ford’s commitment. “It’s wonderful for London fashion week that Ford is showing here,” he said. Ford has a profitable grasp of the power of image. In the 1990s, he played a vital role in transforming the fortunes of ailing luxury goods empire Gucci. When he arrived in 1990, it was riven by family disputes and on a path to bankruptcy. Having made a success of the ready-to-wear line, Ford was promoted to creative director in 1994. By the time he left – a decade later – the House of Gucci was valued at £6bn.
Ford’s overhaul of Gucci is viewed as the textbook example of how to rebrand a label. By common consent, he brought sexiness back; it was his idea to make clothes that emphasised rather than hid the human silhouette. He also oversaw vividly sexualised publicity campaigns – such as an advert for the scent Opium, featuring a naked Sophie Dahl – that grabbed attention and a hugely increased share of what became known as the “masstige” (or prestige mass) market. A few years ago Ford acknowledged sexiness was no longer the thing. “That moment is gone,” he said. “I wouldn’t do a thong now.”
Ford dates his appreciation of fashion design back to when he was a young boy watching his grandmother. She was a woman, he has said, who loved “shopping, dressing and making herself beautiful.” As a child, he did not feel comfortable and longed to grow up, he told the Los Angeles Times this month. “I wasn’t good at sports. I wanted to read things other kids weren’t reading. I wanted to be at my parents’ cocktail parties and mix martinis. I wanted to live the fantasy life I saw in films,” he said.
His departure from Gucci left him at a loose end with a massive bank balance – a period he has described as his midlife crisis. He opened a film production company called Fade To Black, and in 2009 directed A Single Man, a lauded adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel about a grieving gay academic, starring Colin Firth. But tomorrow, Ford is clear, is not a film premiere.
“I don’t want to be reviewed,” he said. “I’m not an artist with an opening; this is not a film. I’m just trying to make pretty clothes. And beautiful clothes make beautiful women, but sometimes they don’t make fashion news.”
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