NEW YORK — Tom Ford, the sequel, is all about uberluxury, quality and personalized service.
Ford has spent the last 12 months sculpting a brand that is pure and perfect Tom, and he is now ready to unveil his vision with a three-story, 8,680-square-foot boutique opening at 845 Madison Avenue on Thursday.
But just what is Tom Ford about without the setting of a luxury leather goods house or le smoking? From the cast-bronze crocodile reception desk and chair in the entrance to the numerous bespoke ateliers, the butlers and maids roaming the luxurious space and clothing details such as a button-down pants cuff that can be unflapped for a quick brush, Ford is aiming to create a new version of luxury.
He is presenting a complete luxury brand from men's ready-to-wear, and custom-made tailoring to leather goods and other accessories — made in a production deal with Ermenegildo Zegna — as well as eyewear and fragrance. The radical approach to go from zero to 100 miles an hour — with the exception of beauty and eyewear teasers — may raise a few eyebrows, but Ford knows a thing or two about building a brand. Plus, to those who know fashion, Tom Ford has long been a de facto brand and always was a factor in his reinventions of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.
"This is the new incarnation of it, and the official incarnation," he said. "I gave a big part of myself to what I did at Gucci and Saint Laurent, and then, when I left, I took that with me. You would walk in here and be able to see certain similarities."
The William Sofield-created store is largely in shades of burnished pale gray and sable brown, with suede walls, leather furniture, beaver rugs, macassar ebony fixtures and art pieces, some of which come from Ford's own homes and others that have been newly commissioned for the space. Ford said he has been thinking about the importance of service ever since he left Gucci Group in 2004.
"I didn't know what to wear," the designer recalled. "I spent time shopping and I thought there's nothing out there that is right for me. Everything was too trendy, and the quality wasn't great, so I went to a Savile Row tailor, which is a very dry experience. You go into a little room, and they yank a little curtain and you sit on a little stool. There's no romance that goes into it."Romance is a surprising buzzword for Ford, who legitimized the idea of a quick romp for the sake of fashion in the late Nineties, sometimes accentuated with gimmicks such as logo pubic hair and penis necklaces. In his new venture, Ford now wishes to purvey longevity and quality in an old-world manner — or at least in the way he thinks the old world was.
"Where would Cary Grant shop if he were alive today?" Ford said.
When it's pointed out that another famous designer has long used the film icon as a source of inspiration, Ford continued: "I think Ralph [Lauren] does a brilliant job, but it's very preppy, it's very American. I find Cary's taste was a little more European."
That said, he shied away from naming specific competitors. But Ford, never one to lack in self-confidence, is convinced his empire will reverberate not just through men's wear, but also the retail landscape in New York.
"I think we're going to be luring people from several different competitors," he said. "Some will have had their own tailors, some might have been shopping at the top end of Ralph or Armani, others might have been shopping even at Brioni and others might be new customers. I hate to make this sound like I'm stealing everyone's customers. I'm not necessarily, but we all are fishing in the same pond. I have tremendous respect for Giorgio and Ralph. I sent Mr. Armani a letter not so long ago, saying, 'You know, you're one of the reasons I'm in fashion,' because in the late Seventies and early Eighties, for me he was just 'It.' He could do no wrong, and I was just constantly amazed by the perfection of everything he did."
Now, Ford is putting his own spin on perfectionism, and he is taking the route of classic tailoring to do so.
"That's what I want after having designed very trendy collections for a certain period of time," he said. "I really want just beautiful quality, beautiful fabrics and beautiful cuts, and then I want to shop in an environment that is very service geared."For instance, the boutique will open by appointment from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., then open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and revert again to an appointment-only basis until 7 p.m. Salespeople will be on hand to take care of a client's every whim — for the opening, he even flew in his personal butler, Angus Richards-Barron, to train the store's butler — and there will be maids for such tasks as fluffing the cushions and wiping off the dust.
"I want someone to say, 'Hello' when you walk in. I want someone to call you sir, or, if they know your name, Mr., or Ms., or Mrs. I want them to get you a Diet Coke if that is what you want," Ford said. "I want them to be nice to you with a smile, and I want them to be knowledgeable about the product and to be able to tell you about it, or if you don't want to listen to them, to not tell you about it.
"I like it when someone calls me sir, or Mr. Ford," he added. "Maybe I've been living in England too long."
Entering the store, clients will come across a woman behind a Claude Lalanne gold crocodile reception desk and chair. Lalanne made the desk for the store, though the chair came from Ford's London house. The chair contrasts with the off-white Lucio Fontana art piece on the wall, a nod to the sexual provocation that has become a trademark. In true Fontana-style, it is a slashed canvas that could be interpreted as female genitalia. "I leave the reference that this store is built around to you," Ford offered.
The main-floor ready-to-wear suiting room feels like a lounge, with sconces made by the family that Diego Giacommetti used for his sculptures, macassa wood and gray walls, and furniture pieces such as a beaver-fur rug, a pair of neoclassical Gustavian chairs, two 1925 Art Deco urns and a Chinese Chippendale mirror from Ford's own collection.
"The downstairs room is a copy of our house in London," Ford said. "Richard [Buckley, his partner] is not going to be very happy when he sees it. I even took some pieces out of it. I just shipped them over. You have to really look into yourself and think, 'What is it that I like? What am I am about?' and then try to make it mean something."Prices are still being finalized, but rtw suits will start at $3,000 and bespoke suits will start at $5,000.
To the right of the entry hall are rooms offering shirting, shoes, luggage, knitwear, initialized socks and outerwear. Ford offers 350 shirt colors in 35 fabric variations, seven different types of collars and five different cuffs. There also are shooting and riding clothes and tennis shorts.
Accessories include crocodile weekenders, attaché cases, luggage, golf bags and eyewear. Ford is also offering a full jewelry collection, with 18-karat gold cuff links, cowgirl money clips, tie bars and bracelets.
The pièce de résistance could be the octagonal marble and mercury mirror perfumery room, where customers can buy a fragrance or order their custom-made blends.
Upstairs, there are three private fitting salons for made-to-order sales, as well as a wide assortment of ties, with three different widths in rtw and seven in made-to-order. The bespoke ateliers boast two tailors and five seamstresses.
"It is a different time now," he continued. "This is where I am now. I am 45 years old, not 33, as I was at Gucci. We are living in an era where we have gone through all this disposable fashion, so what I am craving now is really something chic."
The Ford man, he said, is "probably anywhere from someone who's 28 and leads a very, very, in a sense, spoiled life, to someone who is 75 and loves clothes and beautiful tailoring, and maybe even remembers when a lot of things were maybe more like this."
Ford thinks that he will offer bespoke suits to women in about six months, but he is in no hurry to offer a full-blown women's collection. "I wouldn't just let a woman come in and have a man's suit made. I'll make special blocks for women so that they fit you perfectly," he said. "There are certain wonderful things about women's wear that I do miss, actually. It's fun to work with all those materials."
He chose New York as the launchpad for a simple reason — he couldn't find the right space on Bond Street in London first."All of a sudden I was walking up Madison Avenue one day, and I saw this was vacant and I immediately got on the phone. It's the perfect location."
Other potential deals that could see his name on storefronts all over the world, including emerging markets such as the Far East, are already in the works. Ford said an announcement on major expansion should be made within a few weeks.
In addition, senior brass from Bergdorf Goodman, including chief executive officer Jim Gold, were already checking out the wares on Monday morning, but Ford declined to provide specifics on any potential deal he could be striking with the retailer. That said, he disclosed his collection will be wholesaled very selectively in upscale specialty stores, and indicated it would involve in-store concepts. "It's not like we would just put pieces on a rack," he said.
Ford declined to disclose sales projections — "Luckily, we're a private company so I don't have to talk about it, so we're not going to," he quipped — but he is convinced the concept will be profitable.
"As fun as all this is, I wouldn't be doing it if it weren't potentially profitable, and that's the ultimate goal of any business, to make money," Ford said. "I've spent a lot of time analyzing our business plan and putting it together, and I hope I'm going to make a lot of money with fewer customers, but customers with deeper pockets who spend more. We're going after the guy who buys 20 custom-made suits a year. We also have a lot of things that someone could walk right in off the street and buy, like a $365 bottle of perfume, $75 socks, $350 shirts."
Ford plans to kick off a full creative advertising campaign this fall, but he wouldn't give any details and declined to disclose whether he would star in the ads himself. "No comment," he said. "But you can always hire somebody better looking than yourself."
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