Gucci: A fashion riddle: What’s the best time for a blockbuster? Contract time! And guess what? In the Gucci collection Tom Ford showed on Thursday, he knocked ’em dead, delivering a dazzling collection which, at this intriguing moment, makes it even more difficult to imagine the house beyond the De Sole-Ford era.

This may have been Ford’s best Gucci collection ever and, certainly, his most surprising. It combined everything brilliant about his legacy at Gucci, starting, of course, with sex, sex and sex. He manipulated it into the context of the season’s girly trend and made it all look the height of luxury, right down to those enticingly complicated multistrap shoes. Ford said he started out by once again asking himself the basic question: “Why am I in this business? The answer is to make women more beautiful.” That simple query and response has served him well — to the tune of four million-plus a year in salary, give or take, in addition to the gigantic stock options. And, one could argue, it has served his glamour-loving customers even better, because, as they might say at MasterCard: Looking drop-dead gorgeous? Priceless.

Especially when a girl can be all sexed-up and pretty, too, as Ford worked the aggressive, take-plenty-of-prisoners shapes he loves in a gentle palette of white, blush and ballet pink jazzed with more than a soupçon of exuberant brights. But supertight skirts and pants with elaborate seams were but a part of the picture, as Ford worked a number of ideas with brilliant precision. Exhibit A: his incredible jackets. From the front, these looked to all the world like nothing little shirts, but in back they blossomed into peplumed glory, delicately pleated, tucked or ruched. These were worn over slouchy Ts, one side casually tucked into those skinny bottoms. Yet even Tom has to take a break from tight, and he did here with the chicest faux-sports gear imaginable, silk warm-ups with vibrant side stripes. As for those peek-a-boo swimsuits under fringed, jeweled veils, laps are not exactly the first physical exertion they brought to mind.

Evening shone with intricate dresses, one made from silk fans, another, a jeweled cage, and still others, cut girdle-like with unraveling flaps. And you’ve got to love a feather chubby shrunken to bolero scale. Finally, throughout the collection, Ford embraced the snake — metaphorically, of course. He showed it curling around the body on black silk, working its way up the arm via a large golden cuff, fastening some remarkable handbags and decorating shoes. It seems that Tom read up on the snake and learned that, in Chinese mythology, it represents good luck and money. “Who doesn’t need that right now?” he mused. “Along with temptation and seduction.” Touché.

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