Byline: Maryellen Gordon, November 1989

Tom Ford has the weight of America on his shoulders these days. The Perry Ellis America line, that is. The future of it depends, to a great degree, on his talent and his ability to translate his idea of fashion into a retailer’s idea of salable merchandise.
Assigned 10 months ago the task of redirecting the Perry Ellis America line into a collection with spunk and commercial appeal, the 28-year-old design director’s just-completed spring collection bears the first fruits of his labors toward the new America look. Evolving slowly to lessen consumer confusion, it will show a “less junior, but sexier” attitude, and will appeal to women who have youthful energy, but aren’t necessarily young.
“There’s always some nervousness when you’re first showing your designs to the retailers. I mean, what if they hate it?” Ford fretted, tongue in cheek. “Seriously, though, I know how important it is to talk and really listen to the retailers when you’re working on a collection. But you can’t get trapped into doing exactly what they say. Then the line wouldn’t be new and creative.”
Ford hails from Cathy Hardwick, where he had spent 2 1/2 years as a designer. He had been working on freelance projects for Manhattan Industries — which is owned by Salant Corp., the parent company of Perry Ellis America — when he was hired by Marc Jacobs 10 months ago as design director of that division’s women’s collection.
Jacobs, whom Ford has known socially for about four years, is the reason he took the job, Ford noted.
“This can be a nasty industry to work in,” he said, with only a hint of irony. “A lot of designers are expected to compromise their creativity to guarantee the bottom line. I didn’t think with here, that would be the case.”
The biggest challenge at a company like Perry Ellis America, Ford believes, is creating great style at a price. “You can make something simple yet stylish, but try to take basic fabrics and create something completely new at a reasonable price — that’s not easy.”
So how does Ford simplify his task? He saturates himself in fashion and the ingredients that influence it. The city — its clubs, restaurants, shops and streets — is scoured in search of ideas.
“I go to all the stores. I run to every club you can think of to see what’s going on,” he listed with mock boredom. “You have to involve yourself so completely in all of it that when it becomes fashion, you’re sick of it. You should be sick of anoraks a year before everyone’s wearing them!”

Ford on Quality
“The luxury of quality is modern. And we’re seeing a real resugence in the luxury-goods business now because I think people are responding to quality more than ever before. People really want to put quality and beauty back into their lives.”
— December 1994