Tom Ford does things his way, audaciously and unapologetically. When he stages his fall 2016 fashion show on Wednesday night in that renowned, now-defunct seat of New York power, the former Four Seasons restaurant, he will do so fresh off a major triumph in his now red-hot second career. His film “Nocturnal Animals,” premiered at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend, garnering the second-time director a 10-minute standing ovation and powerful reviews.
This story first appeared in the September 7, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Ford is the only luxury-level designer in New York to fully embrace the wear-now concept this season. Immediately following the show, the collection will be available on tomford.com — the first time the site will carry the ready-to-wear — as well as on Net-a-porter and My Theresa. On Thursday morning, Tom Ford stores worldwide will house the full range, following an overnight turnover of windows and floor merch planned with military precision. Some of the brand’s other accounts will carry the collection as well.
Testing the wear-now waters hardly constitutes going rogue; numerous other brands are doing it, some of which got there first. What makes Ford different is that this isn’t his first attempt to address the vagaries of the digitally altered fashion world in which all information is accessible immediately, with opportunities for merch acquisition lagging behind. For his return to the runway for spring 2011, he famously staged an intimate, tony affair of a show with a casting of “friends” — Beyoncé, Lisa Eisner, Marisa Berenson and Karen Elson among them — attempting to squelch consumers’ instant access to the visuals by dolling out ambiance photos taken by his “house” photographer, Terry Richardson. While as a fashion moment it delighted (those invited felt oh-so-special), he admits that as template for going forward, it failed on two levels — once the celebrity models disrobed, the clothes didn’t hold together as a collection, and withholding show visuals for months as a matter of policy is something other than seamless.
His alternative zeal undeterred, since then, Ford has experimented variously: for spring 2011, with come-but-don’t-report showroom appointments in London for which he was vivisected in the press; for fall 2015, a show in L.A., nestled between New York and London when London Fashion Week conflicted with the Oscars; (he’ll reprise that move in February, only this time on the buy-now-wear-now schedule), and last season, with a video because he was too busy with “Nocturnal Animals” to stage a runway show. While he loved the video idea and final cut, he now considers it a mixed success: While “we got so many hits,” it was “a little hard to see the clothes. You know, they’re moving and dancing around.”
If the peripatetic approach seems antithetical to a personality driven by precision and order, it’s not. Ford always been an adventurer — pushing, testing, provoking, whether the arena of the moment is advertising (more than once testing old-school print’s tolerance for sexually suggestive material) or show structure.
In that sense, he may be the ultimate modernist designer — experimental, bound to no particular city or structure, determined to show where and in a manner demanded by his situation du jour. Given fashion’s increasing “do it my way” orientation, it wouldn’t surprise were other designers to start adapting that nimble approach.
One area where Ford is less inclined toward adventure, at least for its own sake: the clothes. As he’s aged, his criteria for a successful collection have evolved. Time was, a collection had to be “the absolutely latest thing that will blow everyone away,” he says. Now, his altered litany of checkpoints is brief but exacting: “Am I proud of it? Is it beautiful? Is this piece going to be on eBay one day, selling for $50,000? Is someone going to collect this? Is this something that’s worth investing in? Are you going to wear it 20 years from now?”
Because, Ford offers, “If it’s just a dumb blouse, who cares?”