What did Tom Ford do for Gucci?

What did Tom Ford do for Gucci?

Who is Tom Ford?

Designer Tom Ford’s ascension to style legend and household-name is a substantial success in the world of fashion. Ford didn’t come from a fashion family or study clothes design in his youth; nor does he possess an eccentric personality or create outlandish costumes that take Paris runways by storm during a dull season.


He’s no Jean Paul Gaultier or Jeremy Scott or Alexander McQueen. Born in Texas, Ford studied architecture, enjoyed clubbing, and eventually got a break working in the press department for Chloe, before getting in at American lifestyle brand Perry Ellis. Becoming frustrated with American style, he joined Gucci in 1990 and the rest is a fairly significant chunk of fashion folklore.


Working initially under the radar at the flailing Italian house, it’s a testament to Ford’s eye for what sells, his patience [he didn’t see eye-to-eye with owner Maurizio Gucci], and his ability to reinvent, that he was – with a lot of backroom help – able to turn Gucci’s [and later Gucci-owned YSL’s] fortunes downside-up.   

An evolving and now master aesthete, Ford has subsequently formed his own eponymous label and made a bigger international name as a film director of the critically acclaimed A Single Man [starring Colin Firth] and Nocturnal Animals [with Amy Adams].      





How does he link with Gucci?

Ford’s appointment at the ultimate Italian brand may seem like an odd stop for a then relatively unknown American, although Gucci in 1990 was in a situation in which its reputation [if not its profits] was fading faster than stonewashed denim jeans.


There’s little of obvious comparison between the fashion of Perry Ellis between 1988 and 1990 and the kind of creations Ford would conjure at Gucci, although those 80s shoulder pads speak of an Armani admiration that still suits Ford to a tee.


A totalitarian dedication to work and demand for control may not have suited everyone at either Gucci or later Yves Saint Laurent, but Ford won admirers [or simply forced people into submission] with drive and marketing nous.


Look at a Gucci runway collection from 1993 and there is little to suggest the kind of earth moving changes that were to take place in the following decade. The clothing is refined, sometimes excellent, but at its best it speaks to a certain upper-class sensibility: the most exciting thing that’s likely to happen in this Gucci world is the extension of an office space or the opening of a vintage bottle of wine.





What has he accomplished for Gucci?

Switch to 1994 and Ford has taken over as creative director of Gucci. The models are younger, sleeker; they have more angular jaw lines, and they show more skin. They look – not like they’re just about to open a bottle of wine, but like they’ve just finished it and a line of cocaine.


If it’s a crass description of the ironic chic that would be parodied by Austin Powers, pushed to the aesthetic limit by Scott or McQueen and then finally see its day with the rise in body positive modelling and sportswear, then it’s important to remember that Ford’s early work in Italy accomplished minor miracles, and it is now common wisdom that he saved Gucci from suffocating on its own legacy.  


Sex and sexuality had been largely defused in 80s and 90s fashion owing to the HIV epidemic and expansion of luxury brands into conservative Middle Eastern and Asian markets. Ford, perhaps as a re-imagining of his own drug-fuelled hedonism at Studio 54 in the seventies, or maybe in order to break from the historical constraints of the label and his own American tag, ramped up the provocation again.


There were other factors involved: the final toppling of the ‘House of Gucci’ stronghold with the murder of Maurizio in 1995, and the takeover by Kering; the business acumen and foresightedness of Dawn Mello and Domenico de Sole gave Ford the room to breathe and then, with success, the chance to run the show.


His legacy is more of a look than an extensive design oeuvre – slim tall models in heels; big-buckled belts that slip off the hips, squared jackets [ala YSL] that are open to reveal tanned cleavage.


Amber Valenta’s white dress from 96 exemplifies the simplicity [of style and palette] that, in a way Virgil Abloh later attached to a sportier silhouette at Off White. But despite the iconic Texas hipster look that Madonna rode through her Music album, scandalous [!] trouble with adverts showing pubic hair, and Georgina Grenville dominating well lit rooms, the real jewels are in the confident complexity of Ford’s later work at Gucci: Spring 2001 is a ruffled premonition of the streetwise vixen who would take charge in the new millennium, and which shows Kate Moss at arguably her most lethal. All this action swinged Gucci from insolvency to Billion Dollar good times through the 00s.  






Where is Tom Ford now?

18 hour days were the norm for a man who liked to be in complete control. Ultimately, Pinault Printemps Redoute [now Kering] wouldn’t cede that much ground.


Ford left Gucci and the PPR stable at the top of his game and started his own successful label. The clothes more frequently rock the red carpet [see Jennifer Lopez on Oscars form] the materials are finer still and the models look more stable.


Ford was chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America until recently, having steered the organization through the worst of the Covid pandemic. He’s also evolved into a talented and uncompromising film maker [expect more in the works].


And what about Ridley Scott’s version of events in the colourful House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, and Reeve Carney as Ford? The real life designer, according to his own review in Air Mail, “laughed out loud” at the film. It’s not supposed to be a comedy.


Tom Ford, fashion designer, filmmaker, auteur, genius marketer. Gucci [now steady, if not flying under Kering] owes him its life.

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