By  on December 6, 2005

This year, the luxury industry began investing in a Ford — Tom Ford, that is.

The designer, who left his post as creative director of the Gucci Group in spring 2004 and joined forces with former Gucci chief executive Domenico De Sole, inked deals this spring with the Estée Lauder Cos. and Italy's Marcolin Group. The partners also set up offices in Los Angeles and London, with an eye to creating a Tom Ford luxury conglomerate.

"We're back, and these are the first steps in a bigger plan," said De Sole, now chairman of the Tom Ford brand, in April. "We'll be doing very specialized products [and are] thinking through more licenses and the possibility of directly owned stand-alone stores. The brand is going to be very high-end, and all of the products will be positioned at the level of Chanel and Hermès. We want to create the first true luxury brand of this century. And, as always, we're doing our own thing, developing our own business model. The process started last summer, and we've been looking at this brand from every angle and trying to see what fits and what doesn't. We're going to make this very big, but we're going to build it slowly and at a deliberate pace."

And, De Sole pointed out, the new company has just two people's money involved: his and Ford's.

The beauty deal, signed in April, has been the first to bear fruit — and early results show that the designer, who is president and ceo of his brand, hasn't lost any of his mojo. Ford's initial effort involved updating Estée Lauder's iconic Youth Dew in a 13-stockkeeping-unit collection. A new twist on the Youth Dew juice, Youth Dew Amber Nude, will remain on counter and even expand its distribution, although the other sku's in the collection are limited editions.

The Tom Ford Amber Nude collection hit 100 upscale retail doors in mid-November, and the limited-edition products have all but sold through. In fact, more than 1,000 consumers packed into Saks Fifth Avenue's Manhattan flagship on Nov. 3 to meet the designer and see the products. Ford was said to have broken the store's existing attendance records for a personal appearance with his event. Sources estimated more than $30,000 worth of the collection — including bronzer, lip polish and a $550 gold minaudière — was sold during the two-hour event.Ford is currently putting the finishing touches on Azurée, his spring collection for the Estée Lauder brand, which is his play on Lauder's iconic "Estée blue" packaging. He also plans to be finished with the first installment of his freestanding Tom Ford beauty collection by Christmas; the whole collection is due to be released during fall 2006.

"To put it very simply, the key issue in the launch of the Tom Ford brand is the fragrance," said De Sole in April. "Perfume is a critical step for the long-term success of a designer. It made sense to do it. As for the eyewear, I've always loved it, and we had great success with it at Gucci. Tom Ford eyewear is going to be a big priority for Marcolin, and the product is going to be a beautiful interpretation of Tom's aesthetic. And we're doing it quickly."

In September, Ford and De Sole recruited Marco Semeghini — also a former Gucci staffer — to the post of worldwide director of product development for the Tom Ford brand. He is based in London and is responsible for overseeing existing licensing agreements and working with Ford and De Sole to further expand the Tom Ford brand. The Marcolin eyewear line has begun shipping, and a full men's apparel launch under the Tom Ford brand is said to be planned for 2006. Home goods also are said to be under discussion, and Ford hasn't given up his plans of entering the film business.

One thing guaranteed to be a part of all of his efforts, present and future, is that signature Tom Ford-sexy edge. And he's proud of it.

"They'll say, ‘Oh God, it's Tom Ford taking the clothes off another person and stretching her out,'" Ford said in the fall, speaking of the advertising visuals for Amber Nude. He pointed out, however, that Estée Lauder's 1953 bombshell was more controversial in its time, although he did admit: "I like naked women, and I like naked men, as well."

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