When it comes to modern American fashion, few have lived up to Tom Ford’s influence and prestige.
Born in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, Tom Ford has become the fashion legend her is today by transforming multiple European fashion houses modernizing the brand’s image such as his work under the helm of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Indeed, the lasting impact of Tom Ford’s creative vision on fashion history could not have been achieved by just any ordinary visionnaire.
Ford graduated high school at the age of 17 years old and went on to enroll at New York University in 1979 majoring in art history. After just one year at NYU, Ford went out west to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and began starring in small-scale commercials. With little success in Hollywood, Ford went back to New York and re-enrolled in Parsons School of Design studying architecture. After graduating Parsons in 1985, Ford obtained an entry level position at sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick’s salon after calling the office phone everyday for a month. After two years as Hardwick’s design assistant, Ford landed a job designing jeans for Perry Ellis at his Seventh Avenue boutique.
However, Ford’s big break as a designer came when he was hired as the Creative Director of Womenswear at Gucci in 1990. The brand was going through a difficult period at the time. Previous Creative Director Dawn Mello had just walked out and the sales were dropping. When Ford joined Gucci, the brand’s publicist was begging fashion editors to attend Ford’s debut womenswear show – by 1995, journalists were begging to be let in. Between 1995 and 1996, sales at Gucci increased by 90%. By 1999, the house which had been close to bankruptcy when Ford joined, was valued at more than billion. During his helm, Tom Ford was in charge of Gucci’s ready-to-wear, fragrances, brand image, advertising, and store design.
Ford cultivated his signature style during his helm at Gucci and his style in turn became the defining fashion aesthetic of the 1990s — an overtly glamorous brand of sleek that teetered precariously between brazen sex and good taste.
In the 1990s Tom Ford presented a sequence of strong collections: the famous sensual white dresses with provocative cut-outs from 1995 were followed by the 1996 combined show with hyper-sexy outfits for women, sleek suits, and hip-hugging trousers for men. Needless to say, Ford made some prudish fashion editors blush with his runway creations.
“My style is described as porn-chic,” Ford once said. “I prefer erotic-chic which means staying exactly at the borderline between politically correct and incorrect. Ambiguity, seduction and androgyny have always pleased me.”
Tom Ford’s design acumen and commercial success prompted the Gucci Group to hire Ford as the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent in the year 2000 adding to his maison portfolio. Famously, Ford had a rocky relationship with Yves Saint Laurent himself during this time who was not pleased with the direction of the house under Ford’s helm. The two had clear creative differences, regardless, Ford garnered great press and a cult following at YSL.
Ford resigned from Gucci in 2004 and in 2005, he began his own eponymous fashion line that soon became a symbol of American fashion. While Ford began his brand on his own terms, he had bigger plans in expanding his name across industries. In 2009, Ford took his creative expertise to the silver screen fulfilling his early dreams of breaking into the film industry. The designer’s post-Gucci hiatus provided the ideal opportunity for him to experiment in the cinematic realm. Ford’s debut 2009 film A Single Man based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood starred acclaimed actors Julianne Moore and Colin Firth which ultimately garnered Firth an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Ford an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
Ford enlisted the help of award winning Costume Designer Arianne Phillips for the film. “Running a costume department for a film is entirely different than designing clothes for a catwalk and I think that Arianne did a brilliant job,” Ford said, “I had very particular ideas about the look of the characters and how they were dressed and Arianne was respectful of that but also brought a precision and polish to the production that I certainly could never have done alone.”
Shortly after A Single Man, Tom Ford rocked the world again with his second production in 2016, Nocturnal Animals. The film proved to be another smash hit bringing in $32.4 million from the box office. Nocturnal Animals stars an impressive array of industry A-listers, Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen. To tell the story, Ford created the looks for the film following a chic city style of strong tailoring that Ford is known for while other film look took on a paired back Western flair. Visually, the film proves that Ford is a supremely skilled designer and a master of visual references.
Ford is also known for dressing Daniel Craig for the most recent four movies from the 007 franchise. As an iconic suave fictional figure, the task of dressing James Bond is no easy feat. While designing, one has to respect a certain style: an English gentleman perfectly dressed up. To determine the perfect suit, the costume design team of the franchise fit different shapes on Craig until they found the exact fit everyone preferred. To accompany the suits, shirts, knitwear, ties, accessories and eyewear were created specifically for Craig as well.
Ford’s ability to flex between industries exercising his creative genius has cemented his legacy has one of the most prolific designers of our time. Ford has the unique ability to elevate whoever he is dressing – be it a supermodel on the catwalk, a leading star in a blockbuster, or a red carpet sensation. A fixture of American fashion, Ford’s ascent to stardom has earned him the icon status that he leads today.END
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