By  on June 30, 2008

MILAN — Tom Ford is not one for transparency. After all, he owes much of his brand’s success to his intensely controlled image, and if the real Tom Ford differs greatly from the persona, well, few people could possibly know

Likewise, Ford doesn’t want his stores to be places where just everything and everyone are on view. Therefore you won’t find merchandise displayed in the foyer of his brand-new Milan flagship, his first directly operated store in Europe and second worldwide after Madison Avenue.

Unless you go straight for the perfumerie, off to the side of the foyer, you must come inside and make your way upstairs if you want to be privy. It’s like a house in that way.

The store is made of many of the same materials—marble, Macassar ebony, beaver—as the New York flagship that opened last year, but it differs architecturally according to its urban context. Compared with the New York store, which is in a 1930s building and has a spiral staircase, “here it’s a more rectilinear, fascist building, so it’s sharper and more modern,” said Ford. The stairs wind upward at hard angles.

On the day of the opening, which was celebrated with an in-store cocktail party followed by a late-night bash for an A-list fashion crowd (plus actors Gerard Butler and Adrien Brody) in a private palazzo, Ford also confirmed the rumors that he had dressed Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace.

“We made all of his clothes,” Ford said. “You have to make 20 of the same suit because some are blown up, some are partially blown up, some are blown up with blood, and some are blown up and thrown into a pool. And then you have to make all those again for the stuntmen. We made 430 garments even though there are only 11 costume changes in the film.” He added, “There was no financial deal for this; it was just something they asked us to do.”

Ford could extend his reach in Hollywood when he opens yet another flagship in Los Angeles. He is currently hunting for a location there, as well as in London.

He led DNR through the Milan store just hours before the grand opening. With five floors and almost 12,000 square feet, it is even bigger than the New York store, and as big as Ford thinks his stores should ever be. Any bigger and it becomes too impersonal, he explained.

Each Tom Ford store offers a fragrance exclusive to the location, and houses unique works of art. The Milan store displays a 16th-century Italian-marble urn, a pair of baroque chairs that belonged to Franco Zeffirelli, an Alexander Calder mobile and a mixed-media wall hanging by Anselm Reyle.

The second floor has accessories and leather goods. Continuing upward, you find dress shirts, ready-to-wear suits, eveningwear and the dressing gowns, which have become a signature item. Sportswear, neckwear and outerwear are on level four. Ford intends to place greater emphasis on sportswear now that the tailored business is well established. Even technical skiwear is under development, since St. Moritz is getting a Tom Ford shop next year. Made-to-measure salons are on the top floor, and customers there have use of a butler and a bar. One can even smoke and have a meal prepared by said butler.

Ford settled into an upholstered chair. After a moment in which he revealed his extreme audio-sensitivity, a blessing/curse that enables him to make out whispers from across a room, he riffed on a number of topics.

DNR: Can you reflect on what Milan has meant to you over the years?

TF: Richard [Buckley] and I moved here together in 1990. I was an assistant and he was working for Mirabella. We had a sweet little apartment, went skiing every weekend and had a great group of friends, which we still have. Then my career took off here [at Gucci]. Milan is also a capital of men’s wear. It’s one of the few places in the world where men still really dress and love clothes. So it’s important to us as a market. I have an office and a showroom here.

Only last year you opened your first store. Have there been surprises?

Maybe this will sound silly to the outside world, but I appreciate now, more than ever, what a struggle it is to start your own company. I have every possible advantage in this industry and it’s still a struggle. It’s been great, and I’m super-happy with everything, but it has not come without an enormous amount of work, and it has its problems. So I have tremendous respect and admiration for all these young designers. I just don’t know how they do it. The toughest part is setting up the distribution network, building the stores, finding the locations, negotiating with everyone in those markets. I didn’t have to do that at Gucci as much because when I started there it had 180 points of distribution.

Are you happiest when you’re this busy?

I don’t want this to sound too philosophical or pat, but the moments of my life when I was a bit depressed were the moments when I worked the hardest. In a way, the work I did over the last three years kind of worked me out of a depression. And I don’t mean depressed like a guy who didn’t want to leave the house. But leaving Gucci was tough. All of a sudden I had no career, no identity, no job. To figure out a way to come back in a way that I wanted to—that was fun, that I felt good about. And then to get it off the ground, I don’t think I did anything the last three years but work work work work work. I’m finally feeling like I actually might be able to stop for at least a summer vacation and feel good. We’re going on a friend’s boat in a couple of weeks in Greece somewhere.

Do you miss putting on runway shows?

Every now and then, but most of the time, no. I don’t want to be reviewed. I don’t want to think about the press. I want to think about the customer. Until the customer is ready to move on [from my designs] I don’t want to have to move on. And when the customer finds something they like, especially men, they want to come back and get it again and again. In men’s wear we have lost that [sense of consistency] a little bit. I don’t know who wears most of the things I see on the runway. Bits and pieces, yes, but at my age I can’t wear and I don’t want to wear most of those things. Women’s wear is justifiable on a runway because it does change and does move. Women’s, I have to say, I miss it sometimes.

How big is your eyewear business?

When I left Gucci we were selling a million frames per year. Now we’re probably selling close to 600,000 frames per year. That’s in two years, with a much tighter distribution and a much higher price point. So, yes, it’s hugely successful, as is fragrance. We’re the number-one fragrance brand at Rinascente and in the designer fragrances at Galeries Lafayette ... The acceptance of the brand worldwide is so great, in every country, every category. Shoes are selling well, leather goods are selling well, knits, socks, underwear. It’s all selling well. So that’s why I’m going to take a little vacation.

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