Ford’s New Gig: Made in the Shade

Trust Tom Ford to inject more than a wink of sexiness into his new collection of sunglasses, to be unveiled today at the Silmo fair in Paris.

PARIS — Trust Tom Ford to inject more than a wink of sexiness into his new collection of sunglasses, to be unveiled today at the Silmo trade fair here.

“It’s a very potent accessory,” Ford said in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “You can be completely naked — and I know people will think I only talk about nudity — but you can put on a pair of eyeglasses and look like the Fifties, you can look like the Seventies or you can look like the Nineties.”

Or you can look like a porn star.

In fact, Ford cast two of them, a woman and a man, for the advertising campaign, shot by art photographer Jeff Burton in Los Angeles — and no clothes were called in for the shoot. It is slated to break in January publications worldwide.

“It’s quite sexy,” Ford said, noting, however, that the pictures are close-ups and Burton’s forte is to slyly suggest what is going on outside the frame.

The eyewear, with Italy’s Marcolin Group, is one of Ford’s first forays back into the fashion world since exiting as creative director of Gucci Group 18 months ago. He is working with Estée Lauder Cos. to update its Youth Dew fragrance, which is being launched for holiday, and is developing an eponymous Tom Ford fragrance and cosmetics collection, due to be introduced next year. A full men’s wear launch under the Tom Ford brand is planned for 2006.

First shipments of Tom Ford sunglasses are expected in late November or early December, starting in about 60 U.S. department store doors and 700 to 800 eyewear shops in Europe, according to Maurizio Marcolin, chief executive officer.

On Thursday, Ford confessed he chose eyewear for his nascent Tom Ford brand partly because “when I finally decided to come back to fashion, I didn’t know how deep I wanted to get into it.”

But Ford dove headfirst into the project, since eyewear is a personal passion and one of his favorite things to design.

“For a man, it’s almost the only fashion accessory you can have,” he said. “For a woman, eyewear has the same power as shoes.”

This story first appeared in the October 21, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Ford said his personal collection contains hundreds of pairs, given that he designed sunglasses for 14 years for Gucci, and later for Yves Saint Laurent. He also has a collection of vintage frames.

He said his first collection — which consists of 23 styles — is based on interpretations of classic shapes, like the curvy aviator styles he’s always loved. Others are reminiscent of sport glasses. Most are oversize and all boast a higher temple piece, so the arms sit higher on the face.

“The glasses feel very contemporary, but there’s a sense of history,” he said.

High quality was a priority, and Ford said he and Marcolin developed “beautiful” plastics. Metal frames are mostly gold-tone, as Ford detects a swing away from silver.

Repeating his Gucci ways, Ford directed all aspects of the eyewear project, from the velvet and ultrasuede cases to the booth he designed for the Silmo showcase, where he will host a cocktail party tonight.

“There is definitely a huge interest in what Tom Ford branded products will look like,” said Marcolin, citing a jammed appointment book for the eyewear fair.

Still, he stressed an exclusive distribution strategy for frames that will retail anywhere from 200 to 350 euros, or $239.50 to $419.30 at current exchange, with some styles creeping up to 500 euros, or $599.

Marcolin declined to give first-year sales projections, but said Ford eyewear would be rolled out further next year to about 1,000 doors in the U.S., 3,000 in Europe, 400 in Asia and 600 in other parts of the world. That’s still only roughly one-third or one-quarter of the store count for some high-profile designer brands, he said.

The next step is the launch of an ophthalmic collection next March at Vision Expo in New York.

Ford said that collection was already designed, and he promised an antidote to what sees as a “bland” offering in shops today. “I tried to take the same newness to the [ophthalmic] frames,” the designer said.

Marcolin produces more than 7 million pairs of glasses a year. Other brands in its fashion and luxury division are Roberto Cavalli, Montblanc and Costume National.