By  on February 28, 2006

MILAN — Tom Ford might have a penchant for posing nude, but he wants his men dressed well.

The American designer and his business partner, Domenico De Sole, confirmed Tuesday that the Tom Ford company has signed a licensing agreement with the Ermenegildo Zegna Group for the production and distribution of a Tom Ford men's collection. The deal was first revealed in WWD Monday.

Ford's eponymous luxury line, which will include ready-to-wear, made-to-measure items, accessories and footwear, will hit retail this fall when the designer opens his first directly owned flagship at 845 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. For the first season, the collection will be sold exclusively in the New York flagship.

The three-floor, 9,600-square- foot space, set to open in Novem­ber, will be the brick-and-mortar culmination of Ford's year-long return to fashion after launching his own company with De Sole last April. Following the Manhattan unit, wholly owned stores are set to open in Milan, London, Tokyo and Los Angeles over the next three to four years.

Ford told WWD that he's been scouting a few locations in the golden triangle area of Milan. He hasn't signed off on anything yet, but the designer said it was likely his second store would open in the Italian fashion capital.

All parties declined to give a sales projection for the collection, but an industry source said the men's line is expected to generate revenues of more than $100 million in the first three to five years.

"I feel the brand will come into its own when the [New York] store opens," Ford said in an interview from his offices in Los Angeles on Monday. "At that point, a customer can come and say, 'Oh, I get it. I get what he's about.'"

De Sole agreed. "I really believe that a store defines the brand in the mind of a customer," he said in a phone interview from his home in Aspen, Colo.

There's plenty of square footage to fill in the Manhattan unit, but don't expect women's wear to be part of the merchandising mix. Both Ford and De Sole reiterated Monday that they have no plans for a women's collection. Yet when pressed, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent wouldn't rule out an eventual foray into women's."I won't say never," Ford said. He stressed one of his top priorities is still to direct a film. "I wish I had [a film project] to announce," Ford said. "It took a long time to finalize this deal with Zegna, but it takes even longer in Hollywood."

The highly anticipated deal with the Italian men's wear powerhouse Zegna follows licensing agreements for beauty and eyewear with the Estée Lauder Cos. and Marcolin, respectively.

Since Ford revealed last fall that he would return to ready-to-wear with a luxury men's collection, industry insiders had pointed to Zegna as the logical partner. De Sole sits on Zegna's board and is a personal friend of Ermenegildo "Gildo" Zegna, chief executive officer of the family-run company, which reported sales of 713 million euros, or $886.4 million at average exchange, in 2005.

"This was an incredibly important deal for us and we wanted to handle it delicately," said Zegna in an interview while traveling in Switzerland, alluding to the nine months it took to sign the multiyear contract.

"Men's is growing, especially the luxury segment, and I think Tom [Ford] will really create a true niche with his collection," Zegna added.

Distribution of the Tom Ford brand will be limited to Tom Ford stores in the first year. In fall 2007, the brand will begin a limited wholesale distribution and be rolled out worldwide in 2008. A Tom Ford showroom, which will be managed by both Zegna and Ford staff, is set to open in Milan in 2007.

Ford plans to create what he calls the first "true luxury brand of this century" by offering incomparable service and unparalleled craftsmanship. "We really want this product to be spectacular and I think this brand has a lot of legs," said De Sole.

Zegna manufactured the Gucci and YSL men's collections under Ford's tenure at those houses and continues to produce them today, but both Ford and Zegna said different factories would be used to create garments that require "incredible detail."

"Men don't really have couture," Ford said. "They either have a very traditional bespoke suit made by a tailor or something very fashion, but nothing in between."The line, which will be made entirely in Italy, will feature off-the-rack pieces, but Ford said made-to-measure will be the cornerstone of the collection and that it will encompass a variety of categories, from suits to footwear to leather outerwear.

"The collection will have everything a man could want," Ford said. "If he wants custom-made tennis shorts, we'll give him that. Hand-knitted socks? That too."

Retail prices were not available, but Ford said the line would have higher prices than other designer collections, on target with the market's current trend of trading up. Bain & Co. research estimates the global luxury men's market was valued at $22.6 billion in 2004 and grew 5 percent last year, outpacing overall men's market growth.

In a further break with the traditional trappings of a designer collection, Ford is forgoing a runway show and opting to let consumers see it first. "In a sense, I'm trying to give men an alternative way to buy and see fashion," Ford said. "I want to introduce a new system."

Ford said his stores would feature ateliers for customer fittings and custom fabric selection. Eventually, fine watches and jewelry could be part of the selection.

"This line is much more personal. Something happens when you put your name on a product. It changes the way you approach it," Ford said. "I'm older and less in a fashion mood, and more about quality and beautiful fabrics and beautiful cuts."

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