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NEW YORK — In a business that’s all about image, Tom Ford is ready for his beauty close-up — that is, provided you can keep up with him.

And given the range of products he’s involved in these days, that can be a challenge. He’s doing a men’s wear line with Ermenegildo Zegna (he denies any imminent return to women’s wear), erecting freestanding Tom Ford stores, creating a custom line of branded eyewear that will only be available in his stores and developing four Hollywood projects.

He’s also launching his freestanding Tom Ford Beauty brand with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which kicks off this November with a fragrance called Black Orchid (industry sources say it could generate $40 million at retail, globally, in its first year). In spring 2007, Ford will launch 12 unisex scents simultaneously and install perfumery store-in-stores in his upcoming retail doors. A 125-stockkeeping-unit color cosmetics collection is slated for fall 2007, and a men’s fragrance and a women’s skin care line are also in the works for fall 2007. In spring 2008, men’s grooming and an additional women’s fragrance collection will be introduced. Ford even hinted that additional product licenses are on the way, although he coyly added, “Nothing that I can announce today.”

“You have periods in your life — and I’ve been through quite a few of them — where you feel incredibly creative and that it’s all kind of coming and flowing easily to you,” said Ford. “I’m in one of those again, and that’s exciting. So I can’t say, ‘No, I’m never going to design women’s,’ but right at the moment I’m concentrating on all these other things.”

And he relishes the chance to put his own spin on it all. “[With Tom Ford Beauty and his other projects] I don’t have to work around a given framework,” he said. “It’s more introspective in a way, because you have to look to yourself and ask yourself, ‘What am I about? What do I believe in? What do I care about? What do I want my brand to say?’ And, ‘What is all of that now?’ — because we’re living in 2006 — not just ‘What am I about,’ but ‘What am I about now?'”

This story first appeared in the July 28, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ford, after signing a deal with the Estée Lauder Cos. in April 2005, produced two limited-edition collections for the Estée Lauder brand under the Tom Ford Estée Lauder banner: Youth Dew Amber Nude, which was launched in fall 2005, and Azurée, which hit counters in spring of this year. While both paid homage to bygone days — Amber Nude retooled Youth Dew, the iconic women’s fragrance launched by Lauder in 1953, and Azurée was a St. Tropez-influenced celebration of the venerable Lauder blue packaging — Ford welcomed the chance to reinvent aspects of himself with Tom Ford Beauty.

“For the last decade, I think we’ve launched fragrances which, like everything, have become so stripped-down, so transparent in terms of color and often in terms of scent,” he said. “They often become quite watered-down…everything is tested and retested, and while you might end up with a lot of fragrances which smell good, it’s not fragrance development in the old-fashioned sense. I really wanted to create old-fashioned, but in a new sense.”

And that means doing without nudity — a Ford staple in the past — and pulling back on black (although he did choose it for the packaging and name of his new fragrance). “Believe it or not, I’m a little tired of nudity,” he said. “Although I love the way the human body looks, I think nudity is like a good steak. You can eat one tonight, and think you’ll never want another steak, but tomorrow, you want another steak again. It never gets old, because it’s who we are. So, of course, nudity will be back at some point. But this is different — it’s more about putting things back. In the same way that we stripped everything down in the Nineties with regards to fragrance architecture, I’m a little ornament-starved. In my own life, my house in London is a mix of 20th century and 18th century. I’m starved for ornament, I’m starved for color, I’m starved for substance. And so in fragrance I think that’s also a representation of the way that the pendulum has swung in the world today.”

As for black, Ford said he is less into it, despite his admission that he’s built much of his career on the color. “I’m in the mood for color in clothing. But I’m not making women’s clothing now.” Will that change? “I’m very involved in developing movie projects, and it may not look like much is happening, because I haven’t made any announcements. But I have about four projects that are in various stages of development, which are taking a fair amount of my time at present. I’ve told myself I wouldn’t do women’s [wear] until I made a film.”

Then why do men’s apparel? “I feel that I have something new to say in men’s,” he said. “There is something new to be said in women’s, but the system — and the cycle — is harder to break. I found a dramatic niche in men’s, which made sense. It will be unlike any other men’s wear or men’s store concept that exists at the moment. It is very much about quality. It is very much about workmanship and craftsmanship. It’s not trendy, it’s personal — and when I figure out how exactly to say that for women, and I’ve made a movie, maybe [I’ll do women’s wear].”

In fact, he said, film has a permanence that apparel doesn’t. “I think fashion has a permanence — you can go to a museum and see something somebody did — but I don’t think that it affects you in the same way. With film, you are caught up in a world that is sealed forever, and you experience emotion with the character. So if the character walks in and finds somebody dead, you gasp with the character, because you’re experiencing this moment with the character. A thousand years from now, you’ll put in a movie, and yes, at the beginning it will seem dated and strange, but you’ll get sucked into those characters, in the same way that Shakespeare is still valid to us today. There’s a permanence to that clothing doesn’t have.”

Not to mention that the boredom factor is less. “As a designer, it used to be a little frustrating to me that I could create something that I was so proud of, and then six months later I didn’t want to see any more — like, ‘God, I’m so sick of that. Get rid of that.’ Being a fashion designer, I don’t think people realize it — and I’m not complaining, it’s been a wonderful world for me and I love it — but it is truly one of the most grueling jobs in the world. The demands of the way that retail has become, the fact that you have to have a constant stream of new product for the customer, I think in a way is killing the industry. Not just the clothing industry, but the fragrance industry. When things change too much, and there are too many new things, you stop valuing them. You start to feel that maybe they are nothing.”

No matter how deeply Ford gets into the Hollywood scene, though, he said designing will always be part of the equation. “I love designing, the ability to design clothes and stores,” he said. “The men’s collection isn’t just clothing, it’s also luggage, small leather goods, attaché cases, briefcases, jewelry, studs, cuff links. Leathers, custom eyewear, which will only be available in my store. Formalwear, eveningwear, tennis clothes — all of that at a ready-to-wear level and at a custom level. So it’s fun.”

Given that his interests are broad, Ford finds it hard to choose a favorite movie. “That’s not fair, because there so many,” he said, noting that depending on his mood, he might pop in a DVD of “The Manchurian Candidate” or a Hitchcock film. He particularly loved 2005’s “Transamerica.” Films such as “21 Grams” and “The Women” also make Ford’s favorites list. “I like movies to have meaning, even if it’s a comedy,” he said. “There has to be something to it. There has to be a moral to the story, and a moral in the way that ‘moral’ has come to mean these days. A real truth. I think movies need to challenge you. They should make you rethink the world, or your thoughts about the world. That’s why I loved “Transamerica” so much. This character [Bree, played by Felicity Huffman], by a lot of standards, would have been considered a freak. And yet you’re taken into this world, and you see this person for the human that they are. It helps you understand and empathize with people that are different from you, which is maybe one reason why it’s taken me a while to find the right projects. Because, what is ‘a Tom Ford movie’? It has to mean something.”

Similarly, he wants to make films that will live on in people’s memories, although not in the same way some might think. “When I first made it clear that I wanted to do movies, I was offered a lot of things, and I still am,” said Ford. “But people are trapped in my Gucci world of 1995, and they think that I’m going to do a remake of ‘9-1/2 Weeks,’ all about sex and no substance. And I just don’t care. It may be 10 years before I make a movie — I hope not, I hope it’s a year or two. But I’m about to stop talking about it, because people think that because I’m back in fashion that [film is] not a passion, and it is. It just hasn’t happened yet….I don’t want people saying, ‘Obviously, the Hollywood thing didn’t work out for Tom Ford.’ I should shut up until I have a movie made and ready to go.”

Until that time, Ford will further involve himself in his beauty brand. “Tom is very decisive and has a very clear vision for this brand,” said Andrea Robinson, president of Tom Ford Beauty and Prescriptives Worldwide. “He has the big picture completely mapped out, which not every designer can do.”

He’s especially excited about his spring offering, Tom Ford Private Blend, a collection of 12 unisex fragrances which will launch simultaneously on March 12, 2007. The lineup was originally planned for Ford’s freestanding stores only, although now he’s eyeing a few other stores as well. But a very few: “These are fragrances for fragrance connoisseurs,” he said, adding the desire to provide a couture touch is the reason he plans to install perfumeries in his stores. “[In those store-in-stores] you’ll be able to have a custom fragrance mixed up. We’ve designed the shop-in-shop concept, all the fixtures. The point is, we’re launching a beauty brand, not just a fragrance.”

Ford chose to launch with Black Orchid, however, because he wanted to create “an iconic fragrance that could become the center of the world of Tom Ford Beauty.”

“And I am obsessed with orchids, except for white ones; they feel too common,” he said. “This [fragrance] is not about an ordinary orchid, it’s about something a little more strange and rare. I wanted the blackest orchid, and those aren’t easy to find.” So sure was Ford of his black orchid idea that he sought out a high-profile Swiss orchid breeder who had just finished cross-breeding varieties to create a black bloom with the barest hint of aubergine. Ford immediately bought all four of the existing plants, as well as the rights to the orchid strain. “It is now, and forever will be, the Tom Ford black orchid,” he said. Teased Robinson: “The joke is, we can’t get three of the four to bloom again! They’re sleeping.”

Using headspace technology, Ford, Robinson and their team captured the black orchid’s essence and replicated it molecularly. The fragrance, by Givaudan, has top notes of French jasmine, black gardenia, ylang ylang, bergamot, mandarin and effervescent citrus; a heart of Tom Ford black orchid, spicy floral orchid accords and lotus wood, and a drydown of patchouli, incense, amber, sandalwood and vanilla. At launch, a perfume and two eaux de parfum sizes will be offered.

“[The industry is] generating products at such a speed that I think customers are looking for authenticity and quality and substance, which is why I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just a fragrance — that work went into it, into the bottle and the concept and the packaging,” he said, noting that for the high-end, limited-edition perfume, he turned to Lalique. The leaded crystal bottles are sold with a decanter and a purse spray and will retail for $600 for 15 ml. Just 5,000 of the bottles will be offered globally. The eau de parfum bottles resemble flasks and are in black with gold-toned plates bearing the Tom Ford name. The 50-ml. eau de parfum is priced at $90, while the 100-ml. eau de parfum will retail for $135.

In the spring, three ancillary products will be released: An $80 hair perfume, a $45 moisturizing body lotion, a $45 cleansing oil and a $48 finishing oil spray. “One of the things that I love is the hair perfume, which was originally developed for Asia — because in Asia, there’s less of a trend to wear scent on the skin, but there is definitely the trend to wear scent in your hair,” said Ford.

While door specifics are still being worked out, Black Orchid’s distribution will follow a three-tier rollout strategy that will top out next spring at fewer than 300 doors in the U.S., said Robinson. It will be available internationally in the U.K., Italy, France and Germany.

While neither Ford nor Robinson would comment on the topic, industry sources estimated that advertising and promotional spending will top $20 million globally. Given the very targeted distribution, TV isn’t currently planned — advertising will consist of a national print campaign that will begin in November magazines. Upwards of 15 million scented impressions globally are also planned.

The print campaign features Julia Restoin-Roitfeld — daughter of French Vogue editor in chief Carine Roitfeld — made up like a Fifties Hollywood pinup girl, clutching the fragrance. “An orchid is a hybrid flower — I wanted a girl that had that hybrid quality. I didn’t want to shoot a model or an actress. I wanted to shoot someone who meant something to me,” said Ford. That made Restoin-Roitfeld a logical choice. “I’ve known her since she was 10, but I hadn’t seen her in quite a while,” he said. “She’s beautiful and has been beautiful for a long time, but she had become just stunning.” The campaign was shot by Merton Marcus (Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott). Irving Penn also shot a still life for the brand, which will be used in advertising inserts of three or more pages, scented inserts and some back covers.

After praising Lauder group president John Demsey, whom Ford said was a major reason why he signed his Lauder deal, and Robinson, Ford turned to the subject of working with an American company rather than a European one. “It’s hard for me to discuss without coming off like I’m criticizing, but Americans are afraid,” said Ford. “Europeans maybe sometimes don’t think about things quite so much, and they act more intuitively — which can be bad. Americans are incredibly successful in the world in marketing and developing, so how can you say it doesn’t work, but there’s a fear factor which permeates America, in fashion design and in every product in the category. It can sometimes be overthought and overwrought — and overtested, what you end up with. There are a sea of products that aren’t original, that aren’t interesting.

“I don’t believe in the customer telling you what they want. I think you tell the customer what they need.”

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