MILAN — Tom Ford, May 1 is the first day of the rest of your life.

As the designer maintains a low profile following last month’s stunning announcement that he and Domenico De Sole would leave Gucci in April, the entire fashion world continues to gossip about Ford’s first post-Gucci move. The guessing game has placed him at the helm of brands such as Versace and Valentino, gearing up to buy a company that has seen better days, or launching his own label. Other theories have him leaving fashion altogether to pursue his oft-cited dream of producing movies.

Just about the only point anyone can agree upon is that Ford is well placed to take one heck of a vacation after he presents his final collections for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent next March in Milan and Paris. The designer may well have a major surprise up his sleeve, but he can easily afford to wait a while for the buzz surrounding him to settle before he pops up again. One observer noted that Ford might be best served to bide his time and wait for a seismic generational shift in fashion as such legends as Giorgio Armani, Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld head into their golden years. Here, WWD surveyed industry executives, designers, consultants and analysts as to their advice for Tom.

Donna Karan: “He should definitely open up his own line right away. I have no doubt in my mind.”

Angela Missoni: “If I were him I would just take some time off and do something that I’ve always dreamed of doing like becoming a movie producer or director. I would just take a really long vacation and spend some of my money. But if he wants, he can come and take my place here and I’ll take a nice long vacation. I would not put up my own company; it’s too big of an investment both energy- and money-wise. Fendi might be a suitable brand for him.”

Dean Caten, DSquared: “Relax and enjoy life for a minute. [He should] take a deep breath and plan the rest of his life.”Diane von Furstenberg: “Tom Ford should take a deep breath. [He should] take time to think and consider all opportunities slowly and follow his heart. I am sure what is ahead is as exciting as what he is leaving behind. And by the way, he has not left yet.”

Gianfranco Ferré: “I think it’s most likely…that he’ll move on to the star fashion system of Hollywood as his style is rather in sync with that world. With his decisive sense of marketing, image and communication, he reached his objective to rejuvenate and relaunch the Gucci brand in an excellent way. I wouldn’t be surprised if many [companies] want him. Would he launch his own brand? I don’t think that’s out of the question either. Definitely it would be a big challenge and a radical change from what Ford has done until now, designing for a historic brand.”

Steve Huvane of PMK/HBH: “I think Tom should either start his own label or produce and direct films. His point of view and aesthetic are so strong that I think those tools will lend themselves nicely in telling stories on film. His sense of style has already transformed the fashion industry — I would love for him to kick some ass in the entertainment industry. I think Tom has such a strong profile as a creative mind and extremely capable businessman that he can take some time to decide what’s next for him, but I would strike while the irons are hot. I am sure he will have plenty of options at his disposal but he could easily launch a Tom Ford brand.He is so closely associated with the clean, sophisticated sexy style that has buoyed two major brands so there is no reason why he couldn’t do it for himself.”

Majed Al-Sabah, retailer: “If I were Tom Ford, I would definitely continue working in fashion but in a different way. I personally think that the rumors that he might go to Hollywood would not be a good thing to do. I would look into buying a dusty brand instead of working for somebody else. One of the great companies that I think that Tom should buy is Goyard since it’s small and can have a growth potential with a leather goods base. We cannot forget that Tom is a smart business man. I would much rather buy a brand, polish it and sell it off and make tons of money, again.”Gilles Mendel: “He should just go buy himself a small European principality, because after his previous accomplishment, everything else just seems to pale.”

Gavin Myall, managing director for the new London-based ICM Models: “I would do something purely for myself that had nothing to do with building a career. If I were him, I would direct an amazing short film — something cool and creative and personal. Tom has an amazing eye, but I could also see him going into the business side of film. He is already a huge brand with credibility and is in the unique position of being able to wait for the calls to come to him. That’s why he should do something for himself right now.”

Peter Saville, the London-based graphic designer and art director: “One way for him to express himself freely would be to open a custom studio. He could apply his vision in a pick-and-choose way. He could do exclusive consulting agreements. Fashion would be limiting and problematic because it’s been rolled out already; the auto-repeat of fashion merchandising is faltering. He should steer clear of it [fashion] or do it in a more couture way, doing fabulous things for movie stars…I see Tom Ford becoming a visionary consultant, applying his vision where vision is needed. It would be interesting to see Tom Ford fix America in those areas that fixing is needed, such as automobiles, airlines and hotels. He has the stature to do it. A Tom Ford hotel or a Tom Ford car would be fabulous.”

Armando Branchini, vice president of Intercorporate consultancy: “I doubt that Ford will leave fashion. Each person really only knows one profession well, the other interests are just hobbies. He’s so good, it would be a shame if he weren’t in fashion anymore. I don’t think he’ll take a sabbatical. His desire to create and develop is just too strong. If Armani is intelligent, he won’t let Tom Ford get away. If [Bernard] Arnault is intelligent, he won’t let Tom Ford get away.”

Pamela Golbin, curator of 20th-century collections at the Museum of Fashion and Textiles in Paris: “He’s a man who has fame, fortune and power and he really built a new part of the fashion system over 13 years. Why would he do the same thing again? I’m sure he’ll explore new ideas and new paradigms for the broader fashion industry. I’m sure he has even more to offer than what he did in the past.”Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand Corp. in London: “If I were Tom Ford, I would build on my own brand, whether that’s in fashion or the broader luxury arena, including luxury experiences. He has been extremely good at his own brand management by signing his collections Tom Ford for Gucci and Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent. In some way, shape or form, he should use his own brand. Most of the luxury firms should be calling him. I wouldn’t recommend he take any sabbatical, though. At the moment he’s got a lot of momentum and he should take advantage of that. A season is a long time in fashion, unless he’s going to reinvent himself and become an actor.”

Tyler Brulé, chief executive and creative director of Winkreative: “I would take some well-deserved time off and then start to build upon Gucci’s existing base and on the partnership with Domenico De Sole. Gucci has toyed with the idea of furniture and housewares and those areas are both close to Tom’s heart. There is also no reason why they couldn’t make the leap into property development, and work with great architects to build a confederation of branded buildings around the world. So much of what captured our imagination about Gucci was how they set the stage, how they engineered such great environments. It makes more sense for Tom to leverage that power and reputation in the marketplace.”

Mario Boselli, president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion: “I would take a nice long vacation to someplace warm and then I would decide whether to set up my own atelier or become a businessman….I don’t see him working for somebody else. I think there will always be an entrepreneurial component to whatever he does.”

Hamilton South, partner in HL Group, a marketing and communications firm in New York: “The best thing for Tom Ford to do in April is nothing. If he takes [a sabbatical] and makes well-chosen, glamorous ‘appearances’ once in a while, he could become the Jackie O of the fashion industry. There is nothing more lasting than mystery. His current success in fashion would be almost impossible to duplicate. To start a Tom Ford brand seems like a step back. Gucci was the Tom Ford brand and it doesn’t get any better than that. If he’s going to stay in the ‘fashion business,’ he should only be looking at opportunities that are fundamentally different from Gucci and YSL. I don’t think reviving another fashion house is the way to go. Tom’s done it and done it beautifully. Why turn your life into a repeat performance?”Andrea Ciccoli, vice president of Bain & Company Italy: “I believe that his skills, competence and profile would be most valuable to a brand with global and diversified potential. Ford has unique experience working across a wide product range as well as exposure to all major markets. Recent experiences show that turning around established brands or developing new designers requires a long-term approach of at least six to seven years.”

Chiara Tirloni, analyst with UBS Warburg: “I don’t know what else he could do to repeat the success of Gucci. I doubt that he feels the need to try the same thing again. He’s already proved himself with Gucci, there’s no need to do it again a second time. I could see him operating in more of a consultant type role.”

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