Tom Ford’s career at Gucci Group has been of the no-guts, no-glory kind. He developed a razor-sharp identity for the house by infusing smart, chic, wearable clothes with a now-iconic audacity and sexual presence.
Ford entered the cash-strapped, calamitous world of Gucci in 1990, working in relative obscurity under Dawn Mello and Richard Lambertson. He was named design director following Lambertson’s departure in 1992, and creative director in 1994. That year, Ford showed his first flash of brilliance when he transformed the classical bit loafer into a pointy-toe stiletto. It foreshadowed the emergence of the provocative, high-drama image that has for years captivated and thrilled the fashion industry — and millions of women the world over. The breakout came in March 1995. The Seventies-inspired blockbuster catapulted Ford into fashion’s stratosphere, and those satin shirts and velvet hipster pants, into fashion’s vernacular. Times were still so lean at Gucci that the supermodels who graced his runway were paid in clothes. That, of course, would change with a velocity that became the model for — and envy of — the industry.
Within his finely honed focus, over the years Ford has worked a variety of themes, often with a Seventies edge. He has done Mod, Goth, rock chic, disco flash, Chinoiserie, tough chic and luxe hippie. The shows have been styled to perfection, every nuance directed at projecting the image of a woman of strength and sexual power, while flaunting clothes that could transfer from runway to reality without skipping a rock ’n’ roll beat. Along the way, Ford made Gucci a favorite of the celebrity set, dressing just about everyone — Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sting, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt.
After the Gucci Group takeover of Yves Saint Laurent, Ford assumed the design helm at that house, showing his first collection for spring 2001 — a relatively low-key affair that focused on the smoking while establishing his blueprint — he intended to build overtly on the Saint Laurent legacy. In his six seasons, he has had ups, downs and blockbusters, including, for fall 2002, a fabulous effort with a Belle de Jour aura, and for fall 2003 a racy, lacy ode to Diana Ross. That collection, too, struck the celebrity fancy, and when Demi Moore was photographed in the jade velvet jacket with ribbon tie, women flocked to the stores and the waiting lists filled up.