By  on September 14, 2010

NEW YORK — Tom Ford: Film director— check. Fashion designer — check. Entrepreneur — check. Is he also this decade’s Helmut Lang? That’s Helmut as in the man who single-handedly changed the international fashion system because its then-current schedule didn’t work for him.

In a conversation on Monday, the morning after his no-photographers-allowed show (except those hired by the house) that nevertheless had the entire industry buzzing as instantly as one can say tweet, Ford looked as handsome as he did the night before. Then, he had stood next to one of the pair of huge dark vases, his soldierly posture in counterpoint to the perfectly meandering tree branches (bare magnolia branches with pink cymbidium orchids individually attached, to be precise) that flanked the modernist fireplace of his Madison Avenue store, the spot from which he narrated the fashion show that marked his return to the women’s arena.

Ford is well known for his savvy, but even by his sky-high standards, this was a coup: a genuine hot ticket filled with magnificent clothes that felt like the party of the season. It ran completely counter to the more-is-more, huge-venue, any-and-all-celebrities-welcomed, beam-instantly-around-the-world current that defines so much of fashion today. And everyone lucky enough to be there lapped it up.

Yes the clothes were news: gorgeous, commercially viable, unmistakably Tom Ford sexy. Karen Katz, who assumes the chief executive officer slot at Neiman Marcus Group Oct. 6, called it “amazing.”

Though the collection will make its debut for spring only in Tom Ford stores, Neiman’s and Bergdorf Goodman have secured it for fall 2011. “It was more than we could have ever imagined,” Katz said. “The suits were remarkable; the fabrics and details, just beautiful. The special evening pieces were extraordinary, but as a retailer, to see the suits is so important. The presentation was unique and so special — I’m just sorry more of our team didn’t get to see it. We were overwhelmed. It exceeded our expectations by a lot.”

Unlike those collections of Ford’s legendary Gucci/YSL reign, this was not of the single-focus school of staging a show. Rather, it celebrated individual style, a point Ford made by casting a lineup of real women. Make that “idealized versions” of the real customers he’s targeting (not even he can convince you completely that Beyoncé Knowles is just BeBe from the block), a lineup that included a rainbow of ages, ethnicities and — drumroll — body types. (Mind you, he didn’t exactly cast a house, but not everyone had the body of Chanel Iman.)

But if you’re reading this now, chances are you already knew all that. The bigger news is that Ford plans to put the X (as in X, you’re out) back into the notion of exclusivity. Thus, while he has released a few stingy ambience photos, including the one seen here, that’s going to be it for months. Save for phone photos his guests may have gotten away with, he will remain in complete control of all images until he deems their release in the interests of the consumer.

Therefore:

• No full-look photos to run alongside fashion reviews. And, by the way, he no longer gives a hoot about fashion reviews.

• No complete run-of-show anywhere on the Internet.

• No magazine coverage until January issues, to whet the consumer appetite for February deliveries.

• No celebrities wearing the clothes until December.

“This fashion immediacy thing…if you can see them and press a button and they can be shipped to your house, I get fashion immediacy.…I don’t get the need for this immediacy. In fact, I think it’s bad.”

Here, Ford elaborates on why he’s back on the women’s circuit.

WWD: At long last, Tom Ford’s return to women’s.

Tom Ford: When I first got back into fashion with fragrance and eyewear, I wasn’t sure I was going to do anything more than that. The whole thing has developed organically. Men’s developed organically because I didn’t have anything to wear, and still at that point I didn’t think I would ever do women’s [again].

It wasn’t until probably two years ago that I thought, OK, I will actually do women’s again. To tell you the truth, I was watching a film with Tilda Swinton — I’m not going to say which one — and she had some good clothes. It was Christmas. I was in Mustique and I get all the Academy screeners. I was watching films and I picked up the phone and called Domenico [De Sole] and I said, “I want to do a women’s collection. I’m ready to do it.” And I thought he was going to jump through the roof with joy. But I had started working on my film and I knew that it would take time to set up manufacturing and all that because we are doing this all ourselves. This is not a licensee. We’re manufacturing and producing everything ourselves with factories in Italy.

I was doing the film and I actually thought that I could sort of throw together a design studio in L.A. really fast, sew these clothes up really quickly and get them out. Then I really quickly realized, no. As of March, I didn’t have a design team. I hired my entire design team in March, set up my design office in London, signed some manufacturing deals with the factories in Italy and produced this entire collection between April and July — shoes, bags, clothes, jewelry, every single bit of it. We’re moving into new offices in London next week. I’ve taken a great 10,000-square-foot space, which will be my design studio and selling showroom.

WWD: For everything — men’s and women’s?

T.F.: No, just women’s wear. I’ll be selling and showing men’s in Milan, but I’m going to be selling women’s in London.

WWD: Why did you decide to do that?


T.F.: Because this is the next 30 years of my life. I’m tired of flying around all over the world. I live in London a good part of the year. My design studio is in London. I’m migrating my showrooms to London. That way, I can make a movie in London, I can edit in London, I can have my design studio in London, I can sell in London, I can put the collections together in London and I can have a real base and a real life and spend less of my time on an airplane. Obviously I’ll keep my L.A. and Santa Fe [N.M.] bases. I’m expanding my offices in Los Angeles. We’re opening our L.A. store Oscar week. I’m expanding my store in Las Vegas. All of our free-standing stores, including our franchisees, are right now being converted to hold this women’s collection for spring 2011.

WWD: How many freestanding stores?


T.F.: Twenty-eight. There will be, like, 30 by the time we open, and I own a good deal of them. For example, we had a partnership in Asia and that didn’t work out as well as we wanted so we took it back. So when I sold my nice big Warhol at Sotheby’s, I paid for Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I built the stores and own them.

WWD: What was the Warhol?


T.F.: I sold a big self-portrait that set a record for $32 million. I took it off my wall in London, sold it, and with that money built those three stores. I think it will be a better investment over the long haul.

WWD: You’re not at all sentimental about that?


T.F.: I am sentimental about paintings. I happen to have a lot of Warhols and I happen to have a really good friend who said, “Now’s a great time to sell a Warhol.” I actually do have sentiment about those things. But we’re all on this planet for a short time. We don’t really own anything. We get to enjoy it. I enjoyed it. It’s gone. Fine. I’ve got three stores and they’re beautiful.

WWD: Back to this women’s launch.


T.F.: It happened organically. I told myself I would not come back to women’s until I felt I had something new to say, and I decided I’m only going to do it if I have fun. Which means I’m going to do it my way. If it’s successful, great. If it’s not, I’ll close it. But I think it will be successful. I’m probably not going to show [on the runway]. I will do just what I do with men’s — showroom presentations for magazines. I don’t want to design collections for newspaper reviews. I want to concentrate on real women and the real customer. That was also one reason last night I showed on idealized versions of our real customers, all different women of all different ages. It was all about individuality, individual style, different body types, women who have their own style.

WWD: What is it that you want to say in clothes? What is the new?

T.F.: I’ve been watching fashion for the last five or six years, obviously on the side, but I think we’ve strayed away from real clothes. I think that there are fashion designers who are artists. Alexander McQueen was an artist. He was a breathtaking, spectacular, go-down-in-history artist. What I do, and I’ve always said this, is commercial design. I want to make beautiful clothes for women and men who appreciate detail, quality. That’s what I do. I felt that I wasn’t seeing that coming from anywhere else. And I wanted fashion to be fun. I think all the fun’s gone out of fashion.

WWD: What is fun to you?

T.F.: Last night was fun. I had so much fun and I think the audience had fun. I think the girls had fun. I think that people need to smile, I think people need to laugh, I think fashion needs to make you enjoy life.

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