By  on October 30, 2006

Eyewear is often one of the last categories a designer building a brand launches, but not for Tom Ford.

After departing as creative director of Gucci Group in 2004, Ford returned to fashion by unveiling an eponymous collection of sunglasses. He called the move, which was accompanied by an announcement that he would introduce a cosmetics and fragrance line with the Estée Lauder Cos., a small leap back into the world in which he built his reputation.

But the spring debut has made huge strides, putting Ford's name back on consumers' lips. It has also carved out space at high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, with Bergdorf's citing the collection as one of its best-selling lines.

"I may be one of the first designers to do things backward," Ford said of introducing the sunglass collection, which is produced under a license with Marcolin Eyewear. "But there were reasons. I was shell-shocked when I left Gucci and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to fashion in a big way. I loved eyewear and cosmetics, so I thought they would enable me to take a small step back in that direction. And in the end, it took care of a lot of practical considerations for me, as well."

Those considerations have ranged from building up funding to launch additional products, which include his men's wear line to roll out in April, to raising Ford's profile with a wider demographic.

"Select people may know who I am from my work at Gucci," Ford said. "But I'm not sure everybody knows who Tom Ford is, which is important if you're building a brand. And eyewear and cosmetics can reach a broader group of people because they are more accessibly priced."

The eyewear line also suits Ford's creative side. Ford said even when he had a team of assistants helping him conceptualize pieces at Gucci, he always sketched the designs for the eyewear himself, and he realized in retrospect that he missed it.

"Even if it's only an accessory, it's a very potent accessory," Ford said. "It's like a car. It makes a statement about what design is at any given time. It's sculptural in that way."

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