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The Tom Ford 50: Designer Talks Beauty, New Lipstick Range

The men in Tom Ford’s life — past and present — have inspired his latest offering for women: a 50-color lipstick collection dubbed Lips & Boys.

After a busy week in Los Angeles shooting five ad campaigns and an 11-hour flight spent corralling his toddler son, Tom Ford may be weary, but not too tired to discuss his latest beauty venture — 50 miniature (or as Ford calls them, clutch-sized) lipsticks in his Estée Lauder-licensed beauty line.

Each of the 50 shades — named for a man past or present in Ford’s life — will also be available for sale separately, beginning on Nov. 28 at 12:01 am on, for one day. On Dec. 26, it will reappear in-store in 200 of the brand’s 400 global doors, and in 100 doors in North America.

And make no mistake: Ford is determined to build his beauty brand into an economic powerhouse rivaling that of corporate siblings Clinique, MAC Cosmetics and Estée Lauder.

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“If I don’t believe I have something to say, and if I don’t believe that I can compete, I don’t do it,” Ford said emphatically during an exclusive interview with WWD. “I’ve never understood people who wanted to do something and said, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this, but I’m just going to be the second-best’. I believe that I have a point of view in beauty, and I believe we have enormous potential.”

How much potential?

“I’d like to take it to a $3 billion business, and I’m not kidding at all,” Ford said. The brand’s volume is currently estimated at $370 million, according to industry sources. “I’m as serious about the beauty side of my business as I am about women’s wear and men’s wear and every product I do. I think MAC is a $3 billion brand, and I want to take [my brand] there. We want to be one of the top five luxury brands in the world. And I think you get there by doing innovative, original things. Launching 50 shades of lipstick at once is already innovative, as is naming them after boys and making them miniature. People carry teeny-tiny little bags today, and are trying to fit their iPhone, money and a key. I think the idea of a small bag is modern, and you need to be able to fit a lipstick into that small space. It seems that there’s a trend these days to miniaturize things.”

Beauty has long been a topic of interest for Ford. “Back when I was working on shows, going back to the early Gucci days, I’d spend days on [the runway beauty] looks, because that’s your character for the season,” he said. “The hair and makeup and perhaps your shoes really give you your character.”

It’s been nearly 10 years since Ford stated that he was heading into the beauty business under his own name. In April 2004, he left the Gucci Group after a decade as creative director. In March 2005, he opened his film production company, Fade to Black, and in April 2005, he and Domenico De Sole revealed that they had formed their own self-financed company and had signed licensing deals with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. for beauty and with Marcolin for eyewear. Ford is now doing everything from women’s and men’s ready-to-wear to handbags, shoes and jewelry.

The first beauty stockkeeping units, a capsule collection released under the Tom Ford for Estée Lauder moniker, were an update of Lauder’s venerable Youth Dew scent dubbed Youth Dew Amber Nude, and a neutral color cosmetics collection, also dubbed Amber Nude. They were released for the holiday 2005 season. The first fragrance under Ford’s name only was Tom Ford Black Orchid, which launched in November 2006, followed by the May 2007 launch of The Private Blend Collection, a lineup of 12 unisex artisanal fragrances (the collection now includes 23 scents.) Ford’s first men’s scent, Tom Ford for Men, launched in September 2007. In September 2008 came the introduction of his second women’s fragrance, Tom Ford White Patchouli, and two new Private Blend fragrances, Italian Cypress and Champaca Absolute. The Private Blend White Musk Collection came in September 2009, along with Ford’s third men’s scent, Tom Ford Grey Vetiver.

Color cosmetics followed in April 2010 with the launch of the Private Blend Lip Color Collection. A strong-selling collection out of the gate, that first lip offering provided the foundation for what has become a thriving color business. Lips continue to be a major driver for the brand’s beauty business, which is organized into three lines: color cosmetics and two fragrance collections, the upscale and artisanal Private Blend offering and the more commercial Signature fragrances for women and men. About 30 percent of Ford’s beauty brand is done in color cosmetics, with a hefty chunk of that done in lips.

“What we have today is a brand that’s growing 35 percent every single year, and it’s growing on all continents and in all countries,” said John Demsey, the group president at the Estée Lauder Cos. who oversees the Ford collaboration. “All accounts, all categories. We had tremendous success this fall with the launch of [fragrance] Velvet Orchid; we’ve had very strong sell-through in all of our color collections. We’ve had a fantastic Private Blend summer and fall and that’s true of Signature, too.” In the U.S., the brand is available in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and select Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s doors, as well as Ford’s own Web site. “Tom Ford has become a full-blown global luxury beauty brand, comprised of fragrance, skin care and makeup,” continued Demsey. “The fact that this has all happened in less than 10 years to such great success is [because] Tom has a unique voice and position in the beauty space.”

Korean distribution was inaugurated earlier this week, and China is in the plan for spring, said Demsey. The brand entered its first doors in Asia — in Hong Kong and Singapore — in November 2012, followed by Japan in March 2013. Major markets include the U.S., the U.K., Russia, the Middle East, continental Europe and Japan.

In the Lips & Boys lineup, there are 10 shade ranges, encompassing nude browns, violets and plums, metallics, reds and light pinks. The high-pigment shades are done in a base of soja seed extract, Brazilian murumuru butter and chamomile flower oil.

Thirty-six offerings are new shades; 10 are from Velvet Suede, Ford’s current seasonal color story, and four are from previous seasons. Ford predicted bestsellers will include Tomas, a coral hue; Matthew, a coral pink; Flynn, a light pink; Giacomo, a deep rose, and Patrick, a muted coral pink. Each clutch-size lipstick will retail for $32. The lipsticks can also be packaged in sets of any three hues in the collection.

Ford noted that he tries every shade on himself before giving his final approval. “I don’t necessarily try them all on my lips, but if we are launching a new formula, I always try it on my lips,” he said. “You need to see how it feels, if your lips stick together, if it feels waxy or great, how your lips feel when you take it off.”

Why men’s names for women’s lipsticks? Basically, it’s not the usual order of things, and that appealed to the trailblazer in Ford. “I’ve always loved that masculine-feminine thing,” the designer said, noting that most of his fragrances are unisex. “Obviously I’m not expecting a lot of men to wear the lipsticks, but I liked the concept. I love seeing a woman in a man’s suit. Why not have a lipstick named after a man? I could be perverse — and if I were still drinking a lot I’d be perverse, but I’m now a little more tame — but I’m not going to go there.”

Addison was Ford’s first crush; Tomas is Ford’s nephew, Rory is his best friend. Ford’s husband, Richard Buckley, is represented in a pinky-nude lipstick. And a candy-pink shade is dubbed Alexander, after the aforementioned toddler — Buckley and Ford’s two-year-old son, Alexander John Buckley Ford. Despite the grand moniker, Buckley and Ford call their son Jack (and yes, there’s a violet shade of the same name in Lips & Boys.) Ford noted that designing cool ensembles for Jack (and his son’s first “girlfriend”) inspired the limited-edition kids’ jacket range available on (the seven jackets retail for between $2,960 and $4,470.) Jack’s also the reason fans will have to wait a bit for new Ford licensing deals. “There are only so many hours in a day, and Jack takes a lot of them,” said Ford, who is private about his son. “We’re trying to give him as normal an upbringing as we can. If he wants to be a public personality when he’s older, he can.”

Ford noted that the majority of the media buys for the collection will be digital. “It’s especially important for a product like this — it will appeal to a generation who does use social media and spends a lot of their time online,” said Ford. “And buying a lipstick online is less risky than buying a more expensive item that has to fit you. While it’s an investment for some, it’s the entry level to our brand, and so I think people are more willing to say, ‘I’ll take that’ online.”

And the “small is better” thinking may expand to other categories. “I don’t know that we’ll miniaturize fragrances exactly, but we are working on a new atomizer and on perfumes,” said Ford. “Perfumes are so concentrated, just by their nature, that it’s a smaller flask. We’re also looking at ways people can carry fragrances more easily.”

Ford and Demsey declined to discuss sales projections, although industry sources estimated that the Lips & Boys collection could do $10 million at retail globally in its eight weeks on counter.