It’s hard to find even slivers of levity in this horrible coronavirus crisis that is killing many, isolating millions and devastating the global economy. But every now and then, needs must. So picture this: Tom Ford scrubbing a toilet.
The primary purpose of our conversation on Monday was to discuss A Common Thread, the initiative unveiled Tuesday by Ford and Anna Wintour, through which the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund has been repurposed in support of those whose businesses are reeling from COVID-19 fallout. Of course, the discussion broadened to other pandemic-related topics, from the barren retail landscape to newly acquired chores — and skills — within the Buckley-Ford household.
WWD: There’s a lot to talk about. Let’s start with home. How are you coping with house arrest?
Tom Ford: It’s just the three of us — Richard [Buckley, Ford’s husband], Jack [their seven-year-old son] and myself, no staff at all. We’re doing everything. I do the laundry, scrub the toilet, vacuum.
WWD: You’re scrubbing toilets?
T.F.: Yes. And Jack has learned how to scrub a toilet. It’s good for him.
T.F.: Richard. Or we have takeout delivered and left outside the door. And we’re homeschooling.
WWD: Shonda Rhimes tweeted a while ago that she was homeschooling a six-year-old and and eight-year-old for an hour or something like that. She wrote, “Teachers should make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”
T.F.: That’s about right. But overall, it hasn’t been that bad.
WWD: What is bad — the reason for developing these new skills. Do you believe what’s going on?
T.F.: What the f–k! It’s really, really, a disaster.
WWD: The job situation. Everyone working from home or out of work. It’s devastating.
T.F.: We’re paying our staff. They are our number-one priority.
WWD: That’s great. When does paying everyone become no longer feasible?
T.F.: I can’t say when, but at some point it will become a challenge for all brands. It’s enormously expensive to operate a luxury company, and it’s based on the point that you will have X amount of sales coming in all the time, both retail sales and, in our case, wholesale sales. So all of a sudden the retail world grinds to a stop and you have zero cash coming in, yet you’re still supporting an enormous operation, you’re continuing to pay rent, you’re continuing to pay your employees, but with zero money coming in. Very quickly, within a few months, it becomes very hard to operate. Even if you’re an established brand and are lucky like we are, versus a medium-sized brand, when everything stops and not a penny comes in, and your third parties start canceling their orders because they’re going to go out of business, it’s a big deal.
WWD: How worried are you? Do you think American fashion will down the tubes?
T.F.: No. Believe it or not, even though I’m often negative when you talk to me. I’m not negative, I’m a realist; I’m a realist about everything, I don’t think American fashion will go away at all. I think American fashion will transform. I think all of fashion will transform and adapt.
It is human nature to want to have something that no one else has, a certain kind of shoe or a cool sneaker or a cool whatever product it is that says something about yourself. It is human nature to express yourself through clothing and to express your status through clothing or accessories. That’s human nature. That desire and that need that we have as humans is not going way. It’s going to transform; it’s going to morph.
WWD: What do you see morphing quickly?
T.F.: Everyone has been complaining about the fashion shows — well, guess what? They may not exist in September. And pre-collections? Who knows. Even if I wanted to have a pre-collection, I probably can’t because my sample rooms are closed. We can’t have any fittings, we’re under a 30-day lockdown. Even if I made a collection and somehow figured out how to have it in a showroom or show it virtually somewhere in May, which doesn’t look likely, who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to have an open-to-buy? Nobody is going to have open-to-buy, even my own stores. We’re going to have merchandise backed up, if we can ever get it out of Italy, merchandise that the consumer hasn’t even seen. So you might as well just forget the merchandise that would have been delivered to stores for the pre-collection.
I don’t think any of us know where this is going at all. But ultimately, I have an enormous amount of faith in the fashion industry. There is a reason maybe that it’s the second-largest industry after food. I mean, number one, we need to cover ourselves. But we express ourselves through fashion and that is not going away. It’s a fundamental human quality or need or desire.
WWD: I agree with that to a degree. I also buy into Maslow’s pyramid — the physiological needs come first. If you’re worried about the mortgage, self-adornment isn’t much of a priority.
T.F.: Not in the middle of this crisis, no. Perhaps I’m talking a little more long-term than you are. People are not going to get out of their apartments and immediately [go shopping]. I mean, why do you need this if you’re not going to work, or why do you need a dress and some high heels if you can’t go on a date?
I’m talking about once we recover. In China, for example, with our cosmetics, we’ve completely recovered. We’re back to 100 percent. And our ready-to-wear and accessories, which was down about 95 percent, it’s now back up to 50 percent. So it’s moving in the right direction in a relatively short amount of time. In China it was really January and February that were the worst.
It [recovery] depends on how long this lasts. If it’s quick, I think things may return. I think our spirits before this happened were fairly positive about the economy. We were doing really well. The first few months of this year were terrific, way ahead of last year.
WWD: Just an aside, may I tell you how sad I am that I missed your show in Los Angeles. It looked so good.
T.F.: I was one of those shows that had you been in the room I think you would have felt it even more, the atmosphere was so great. I never say this, but I honestly hadn’t had a show this strong since the little one I did in my store and the ones I used to do at Gucci.
WWD: I’m feeling worse.
T.F.: You know one reason it worked? And maybe we’re going off target, is that no one had a phone in their hand. We were not playing to a fashion editor/blogger crowd. We were playing to people, celebrities, entertainment executives, people that were watching. We’ve talked about this before. Those of us who have had the good fortune to design before the phone, we’re used to walking out to applause. You could tell: Strong applause, they loved it; if it was not strong applause, they didn’t. Now you walk out and it’s soundless and everyone is holding their phone up to film. So the energy in the room — you had their concentration, like they were watching a play. And it made so much difference. I mean, I loved the clothes, the lighting worked, the music worked, the venue worked, all that worked. But it was also the atmosphere in the room that was very different than the atmosphere you usually get in a fashion show now. I don’t mean that in a negative way; everybody is just filming now
WWD: Did you ask people not to use their phones?
T.F.: Noooo! No, no, no, no, no, no. But, you know, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to sit there with his phone on filming a show. Neither is Jon Hamm. So no, it was a room full of people just experiencing a show.
WWD: Those were gentler times back in February. Back to now, any predictions on how this will all play out?
T.F.: Everything is nebulous right now. Are we going to be quarantined [indefinitely]? Are some of these treatments going to work, so that if you’re 70 years old you’re not necessarily going to die? Will we have flattened the curve? Will there be hospital beds?
Will there be some sort of pre-collection shows? I can’t imagine there would be. I had a call this morning about that with my own company just to tell everybody, “Look just quit thinking about it, I don’t know how it could possibly happen.” And as I said, who is going to come in and buy it? What retailers are going to all the sudden say, “Oh wow, I’ve got to open-to-buy for pre,” which is, by the way, in May, which is six weeks from now.
WWD: I can’t imagine it happening either. Is that your official position as head of the CFDA?
T.F.: I’m saying it for my own brand. And I’m saying it as a realist. We’re talking about it with Steven [Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the CFDA], and what to say about men’s fashion week. So we haven’t made an official announcement or recommendation. We’re still trying to gather what other people are thinking about it. But realistically, even if it goes on, who’s going to buy it? Because nobody is going to have the money to buy.
What I’m doing this season — who knows? Maybe everything will correct itself and I’ll have a pre-collection, but I don’t think so. We started working on it before our factories closed, and in my own atelier here in L.A. before I had to send everyone home. So I’m going to keep all those things, and make all of these things, and I’m going to put them into spring. I won’t put them in the show, but it will be in the showroom. So I’m going to expand my spring collection to not just be a fashion show collection, but to also contain an expanded [range] that is perhaps less exciting from a fashion standpoint but just really beautiful clothes that people want to buy. And by the way, let’s just hope that in September…
WWD: Do you think the spring shows might not happen in September?
T.F.: I have no idea. It depends on what happens. I think everyone needs to also consider what kind of clothes and accessories people are going to want in September.…This is going to alter what people want to buy. All of a sudden will they want more discreet things? Will they want a different color palette and a softer, gentler collection? I certainly don’t think anyone is going to want a hard, aggressive collection. So I think we’re going to just have to feel where we are, which is what we always do with fashion.
It’s a reflection of where we are culturally. It always has been, and I think it will be. So I don’t know. Who knows? Maybe everyone makes tiny collections for September. Really no one can predict this. That’s what’s so crazy about it. Usually you can sit down with a business plan where you can plan out. No one can predict this. No one in the world can predict what’s going to happen.
WWD: Given that, as the chairman of the CFDA, is there a message you want to send to your membership?
T.F.: I think the most important thing is that this will go away, that this will pass, that we will survive. Our lives are going to be transformed, and our jobs may be transformed, but everyone is talented. Whether you’re a seamstress, you’re a tailor, you’re a designer, your life, yes, it may be turned upside down. Temporarily. But this will pass and we will all be back to work. And we will all be creative again.
It’s hard to believe, I understand that, when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay your rent, how you’re going to pay your bills, it might sound callous. Because whatever industry you’re in, it doesn’t have to be fashion, it’s upending people’s lives.
WWD: I think it sounds very uplifting. But “we will all be back to work.” Do you really believe that?
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