Designers reacted positively Wednesday to the news that Tom Ford has been elected chairman of the CFDA — and had a lengthy “to do” list of the challenges he faces when he takes over in June.
While they praised the work Diane von Furstenberg has done over the last 13 years — working with Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of CFDA — to galvanize the American fashion industry, they say they are looking forward to Ford’s tenure and what he’ll do to bring a more global perspective to their businesses.
New York Fashion Week remains one of the thorniest issues on Ford’s plate, and a few women’s wear designers had ideas on how he could make changes to the semiannual event. NYFW: Men’s presents another problem, and some believe it got off on the wrong foot. They are hoping Ford, who has a luxury men’s business in addition to women’s, can improve the event and have some impact to help the men’s business gain more respect.
Continuing the work the CFDA has started on diversity, sustainability, body image and other important issues remain paramount, they stressed.
But while the designers laid out the welcome mat, they had a lot to say about the tasks ahead for Ford:
Prabal Gurung: “To have Tom Ford helm the CFDA as a face and active player in crafting the future of American fashion is really exciting and impactful. He comes from such a strong background working with global brands and has done a wonderful job of building his own here in the U.S. Tom Ford has the ability to really empower American fashion on the global scale — I hope we can build more conversation and alignment and opportunity for U.S. designers in London, in Paris, and in newer markets like the Middle East.
“Likewise, American fashion has really been at the forefront of diversifying what the fashion industry looks like, on building a more inclusive community through visual representation and dialogue, and I’d like to see some of these values shared with and spread throughout Europe and beyond. He has the power and the sensibility to be able to bridge this gap, so I’m really hopeful and excited to see what the future holds.”
Norma Kamali: “I think it’s great [about Tom]. I think Diane did an amazing job for more years than she wanted to. I think a new perspective is always good, and reinventing at this time is not a bad idea. We’re all very optimistic and it should be good.
“My fantasy is a two-pronged concept [to NYFW]. One is, we show our collections to the buyers and press in more intimate venues. Then, the Shed is a perfect place to do twice a year, a major knockout fashion show where everybody participates. There can be two shows a day, and industry have tickets, and outsiders have tickets. People get dressed up for it. The collections can go up on WWD, then you see the full line in showrooms or smaller venues. Every designer contributes a certain number of styles for what they’re doing that season. It’s a mega-mega-mega fashion show, a super event. That would be fun. We have the Shed now, it’s a perfect venue for this. It would energize us to be in a different kind of venue and it would get a lot of people to see the shows. It’s more inclusive and more democratic.
“Everybody is going through it [disruption], not just our industry. It’s time for change and reinvention and not doing what we did before, because it’s not working — none of it. I think Tom will be global, which is critical. I work with Asia and Europe all the time and we do FaceTime; there’s a way to make it work. I’m sure he’ll be available to come to New York periodically, and if he’s not, he can FaceTime. He sees us, we see him. I don’t think location is an issue anymore, it’s just making sure we’re moving in lots of interesting directions.”
As far as current programming about issues such as diversity, she said, “Nothing is 100 percent. Our industry has more objectification of women and so does the beauty industry. It’s a work in progress. All of our meetings have conversations about it. It’s not something we’re not talking about and not addressing. As an industry, fashion and beauty, and I’m guilty, too. I’ve made body image, fitness and health critical in my brand. We all realize that nothing is the same, and everybody has to be included, that means gender fluidity, and all those phrases that are in the conversation.”
Nicole Miller: “Everybody’s gung ho. Everybody thinks it’s a good choice. Diane did a remarkable job and the CFDA now has all these seminars and workshops for fashion company employees. It’s so great, the labs, there’s so much going on these days. I think it’s great to have someone who has international global presence. [Tom] clearly has that presence and those contacts.”
Rebecca Minkoff: “I think the more he can take a look at all the designers that belong and really figure out: how do you not just serve the 1 percent, and how do you make sure every designer gets the tools they need or access to mentors or resources or funding? We’re all facing different challenges. How do you figure out programming that really ensures that all members feel they are getting a benefit of being a part of the membership? While the awards are critical, how do you make them a more inclusive experience so that you have more women and people of color being represented, not the same candidates? How do you make that an experience that uplifts and elevates designers that are maybe less in the headlines? It’s time to take the awards and turn it on its head. It’s not a popularity contest anymore, or some sort of list. There are so many talented designers, there are so many talented women and so many people of color that just don’t get put on that list. It’s a shame because it’s the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and it’s not being represented that way to me.
“We had a really great experience being back [at NYFW} for the first time in a year. It’s not easy. Every designer needs different things. There isn’t one formula that works now, like it did before. It’s how do you create a fashion week or fashion experience so each person can play by their own rules and it’s supported? I still feel very strongly about the buy-now-wear now. It’s taking the temperature of what people showing really need and how best to support it. That would be a great place to start.
“I think the programming looks great, I’ve been remiss in not being able to take advantage of it. But some of my staff have, and they found it helpful. It’s a good start. How can you approach it so if you’re working all day, how do I get away? Is it a webinar? If we’re all working, how can we take advantage of it?
“He [Ford] is a very successful man who has a very successful company so I don’t really feel qualified telling him what to do. I think a town hall with all the designers to hear us out, so it starts out with a place of listening [would be good].”
Marcus Wainwright, Rag & Bone: “It’s not for me to say what he should focus on. I don’t know Tom Ford that well, but he’s a guy with an opinion, for sure. He’s going to know probably exactly what he wants to do. I don’t think it will be a massive change in direction, but a change in leadership is something that will reinvigorate the CFDA board.
“His global perspective is probably going to be the way he thinks about it. The CFDA is obviously the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and they should focus on American fashion. There may be a more inclusive approach. American designers play an important role in global fashion, not just American fashion. I think the CFDA has had an amazing run under Diane. I think she’s done a fantastic job reinvigorating the CFDA and opening it up to more designers, getting a lot more members on board, and it’s become a much more powerful organization. Simultaneously, the world has changed in that timeframe. The way fashion works and the relevance of the fashion show versus Instagram. There’s been a shift for sure, not just in America, but everywhere. He’s a master of many things. He’s a fantastic brand marketer. If he brings that to the CFDA, it will be a huge benefit. One thing I expect him to focus on is the global nature of American fashion.”
Adam Lippes: “At first I was surprised, because frankly I didn’t think of him as being part of the American fashion community, although I certainly know he’s American. But giving it some thought, I love the fact that he has been a huge success, twice or maybe three times. He has designed and built brands here and in Europe. I think that gives a world dimension that we need here. I see how my business is doing internationally, which is incredibly, and he can really bring that to the CFDA. And he’s a star. Everything about him is kind of a star. We should be led by a star.
“I haven’t taken advantage of the programming. I talk to a lot of designers my age. We spend time together. Rosie [Assoulin], me, Jason [Wu], but not through the CFDA, but on our own. We talk about distribution and places we make things. We really have each others’ backs. I feel very connected to the community, it’s kind of on our own, not through the CFDA.
“I think the Shed will be an incredible part of Hudson Yards. I’m really excited to see it done. I show in my home in Brooklyn Heights. I like to show the clothes where they live. I also understand the needs of the editors and stores who are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They come to you and their whole idea is when can they leave. If we can find a space that’s inspiring on its own and is not just a tent thrown up and big air conditioning boxes outside, that people can customize and make into something that reflects their brand, I think it might really work again for us. And I would be excited to be part of that.”
Yoehlee Teng: “I think he has to motivate and engage the entire membership…it’s very key that we’re losing ground as far as our standing globally. He’s a very savvy guy, so I’m sure he can figure it out. I think it’s a great move, and that a new perspective is needed.”
Tommy Hilfiger: “I think Diane did an amazing job during her tenure at the CFDA. She will be a hard act to follow but if anyone can take it to the next level, Tom Ford can. He’s the perfect candidate with his great successes in fashion and entertainment.”
Stan Herman: “It was the perfect time for him. He’s not a grandstander and he’s one of the major names, and he’s interested. He’s still based in California but that will add to the diversification of the CFDA. Diane was very happy with the choice. I’m proud that he was interested and I’m very proud he’s in the line, which [besides himself] includes such designers as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Norman Norell and Perry Ellis.”
Kenneth Cole: “I have always admired Tom’s commitment to fashion and community. His experience, international perspective, and dedication to the industry make us fortunate to have him as the next CFDA chairman. I am looking forward to the strides I know he will make to further the global impact of American fashion. I know I speak on behalf of many when I thank Diane for her transformational oversight and dedication to the CFDA for the last 13 years.”
Stacey Bendet, Alice + Olivia: “Diane von Furstenberg has done an incredible job guiding the CFDA and the industry, with a vision through turbulent times of change. Tom will hopefully continue the incredible work she has done in addition to bringing excitement and innovation to the industry!”
Nanette Lepore: “I’m so excited to have Tom Ford as chairman of the CFDA; he brings a fresh dose of glamour to American fashion. More importantly, Tom is politically liberal and understands the divide in our country — I’m hoping he will approach his new role with the same compassion and understanding. There is a big disparity in the CFDA between people who have very large businesses and some who have very small companies. With his kind of approach, he’ll be able to understand all sides of what he’s dealing with at the CFDA.”
Robert Geller: “I am very excited about the announcement. It is difficult for us to know what to expect from Tom. He is obviously very well-known as a designer and filmmaker, but it will be interesting to see what he will do as the head of the CFDA.
“Being a men’s wear designer, I think that it is heartbreaking to see what has happened to New York as a fashion capital. I feel that in men’s wear there was a real moment, around 2011-2012, that felt like the U.S. was producing this crop of interesting designers that had the potential of becoming something special. The CFDA took the initiative to create a men’s week in New York City, and I believe that it was a good idea.
“Men’s shows were on the women’s schedule, months after the sales seasons in Europe had passed. We ended up either showing our collections to buyers months before the runway show, or being left with empty budgets from stores after our shows. NYFW: Men’s became a venue-based event. The CFDA and their sponsors created a one-stop experience to house all types of designers from Siki Im to Joseph Abboud. It mixed the avant-garde with the hyper-commercial. I think this was to its detriment. Press and buyers who came in to see what this new men’s week was all about saw a whole lot of brands that do not necessarily belong on the runway, got bored and never came back. Very quickly, designers decided to go to Paris, where they knew all of the important people in the industry would be.
“I believe that the effort by the CFDA was pure and good, but the individuality of the designer needs to be celebrated and fashion just really is not democratic in that way.
“I hope that Tom Ford will see this and find a way to support American designers in a way that will give them the freedom to create amazing and exciting shows, to attract the world to come back to New York City. It’s New York City after all. It shouldn’t be so hard to get people to come here.”
Joseph Abboud: “It was time for a change. A new face with new ideas was needed for that role. Tom has a sense of men’s wear and that’s important. Men’s wear doesn’t get its due and has always been the stepchild, so having someone who knows there’s validity in what we do is important.
“Steven Kolb is fair and thoughtful and I think they’ll work well together. He brings a lot of value to the organization and is very supportive of young talent, and I hope Tom will be, too.
“But he needs to give an eye to men’s wear — men are half of the population — and not just focus on the celebrity of women’s wear. I hope Tom speaks to the men’s wear designers to get their ideas and perspectives as well.”
Todd Snyder: “I think it’s a good thing. Diane was very involved and she’s a legend. She sat in on meetings and her perspective was amazing. She was a celebrity and Tom brings that same level of celebrity to the role, but he has a different perspective.
“He has his own company, but he’s also worked for someone else and having that experience can help everyone out.
“Diane doesn’t have a men’s line and Tom obviously does, so he can relate and it should help push ideas around. Whether there will be a separate men’s week or not is a question mark but we don’t just need an advocate. Everybody is loving Paris right now, and it’s just not America’s time right now. There are some real leaders in men’s wear — Thom Browne and Virgil Abloh — but they’re in Paris [at the shows], not here. Men’s wear at the CFDA has always been considered a bit of a stepchild and hopefully having Tom will help change that.”
Nick Graham: “I’m very excited about Tom becoming the head of the CFDA. He’s a global superstar and his experience and knowledge should be of enormous benefit to the membership. It’s amazing what Diane achieved under her leadership, and I’m sure Tom will take the organization to another level entirely. American fashion needs to be taken more seriously around the world, and what better dressed and talented ambassador could we possibly have?”
“I first became a member of the CFDA in 1992, and it forever changed my career. It’s an organization that does so much, and its constant evolution, is, like fashion, necessary.”
Ariel and Shimon Ovadia, Ovadia & Sons: “We feel that Tom Ford’s appointment as chairman of the CFDA is a great step forward for American men’s wear designers. Tom has succeeded on a global level in both men’s wear and women’s wear and has a lot of knowledge to share. We hope to see him pushing men’s wear as a high priority.”