WWD: What is the state of American fashion today?
Tom Ford: I don’t know anything about American fashion! I don’t even think about American fashion. Everything for me is global, it always has been global. I sit around thinking how are we going to improve our sales in Asia and what are we going to do about Europe and why is the market dipping in this city or that city. I’ve never thought of myself as just an American designer. So ask me your questions but I don’t know that I’ll know what to say.
WWD: The genesis is that American fashion is a topic of industry conversation. We want to evaluate the state of American fashion today.
T.F.: I’m not trying to be difficult or a jerk. I have such a hard time answering this because I really don’t think, this is American fashion, this is French fashion, this is Italian fashion. I think of everyone on the same stage, especially now when you have English designers and Italian companies and English designers and American companies and American designers and — I don’t think of it that way. So I actually don’t know how to answer your question.
WWD: Please try. There’s a sense that American fashion is not at its peak.
T.F.: To be honest, I think American fashion was at its peak in the Seventies because that sort of clean-line thing that Americans do so well, that minimal thing, Halston and Calvin…For me, when I think of American fashion, but maybe that’s just because the Seventies for me means so much. Of course, Saint Laurent in the Seventies was amazing. But that clean, minimal, functional thing swept the world. American fashion in the Seventies had impact globally. I guess the contribution that American fashion has most recently made would be street fashion.
WWD: Would you agree that from the mid-Nineties, when you were in Italy, and Marc, Michael and Narciso were in Europe, through the Aughts, when the Proenza generation was getting established, that there was an excitement around New York fashion that has now quieted?
T.F.: I wasn’t living in New York then, so as I said, I have never thought about American fashion as an isolated thing. I mean Ralph, I think he’s very interesting, and Calvin Klein.
So is that American fashion or is that just global fashion? One of the things that I found so irritating when I worked on Seventh Avenue in the Eighties was this insular look at America all the time. And [after working in Europe and] moving back to America, you realize it. It’s in every field. I’m not trying to say your story isn’t interesting to me, but I think we should be looking at global fashion, not American fashion or French fashion or Italian fashion. I find it actually symptomatic of America that Americans want to look at America and are not looking out. So I don’t even know how to answer.
WWD: Do you think creativity is impacted by geography?
T.F.: I do, because it’s impacted culturally. Meaning if you’re in America you do not get any global news. I watch the BBC News every night, so I don’t just hear Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump and, “Live at five! Lose 11 pounds on the summer watermelon diet.” You get nothing here. You get nothing. It is so isolated. And I find that really crazy. America doesn’t live in the world. America lives in America. And so yes, I do think one is impacted here, and I find it a struggle to stay up on what is happening globally.
We get no international news here. We are the most insular, inward-looking, isolated country. Every American should go to Shanghai and Dubai and you will realize that we are — boy, this is not going be popular — but you will realize that there is another world out there, and it’s moving at quite a clip. Anyway, I’m digressing.
WWD: How does that impact creativity?
T.F.: Oh, my God. If you’re not part of the game, how can you create things that are relevant for a world which is moving on without you? How? You have to be part of the world in order to make a meaningful contribution to global culture, you have to know what’s happening. You have to learn step A before you can then use what you know from step A to move to step B. It’s like anything. I find it very, very insulated.
For me, it’s had a reverse effect. This might sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. When I lived in London, I was very much impacted by London. There are two worlds in London — there’s a very trendy world and then there’s the established world. I lived in the established world, which is really the 1950s.…You’re living in a world of hyper-rich, old-fashioned manners. I love that [but] it is a bubble that is not contemporary.
Living in L.A. has changed the way I look at fashion. It has changed the things that I find acceptable, exciting and beautiful. L.A. at this point lives more the way that the rest of the world does because it is a more casual world. I have actually found that inspirational but also, just the change itself has been inspirational. But I still do feel very isolated here, and it is a struggle daily to feel connected to the outer world.
WWD: Let’s talk about New York fashion specifically, the fashion weeks. Are you pleased with the current organization of the various fashion weeks?
T.F.: I just kind of do my own thing. I’m showing the night before Fashion Week. It doesn’t matter to me what else is happening, that’s when I’m going show. Does that sound arrogant?
WWD: It sounds honest. Do you think the CFDA is working well?
T.F.: Ohhh, slippery slope. I’m sitting here, looking at my seven CFDA Awards and I’m really happy to have them. I love the CFDA.
WWD: What do you think of the CFDA notion, that came from the Boston Consulting study, that in terms of showing, every brand must do what’s right for itself?
T.F.: It’s very funny because I thought the fashion show was a very dated concept, which is why I’ve tried lots of other things. In the end, I think the fashion show now is maybe more important than it was before. But it is not important to show the long-lead press your clothes and that handful of journalists that once could make you or break you. It is to create an Instagrammable event with people in the audience that everyone wants to look at, people Instagramming the things you sent to them before the show, Instagramming themselves at the show. You’re creating an event.
Now, to create that kind of an event, you have to do it at a time when everyone is together, when everyone’s in town, when all the models are there, when all the celebrities are there. So I do think that Fashion Week still makes sense because everyone converges on a place at the same time so that you can have an event so that it can be shot out to the world in a big sort of boom. That to me is now the purpose of a fashion show: to create an event that people who aren’t there can feel a part of.
WWD: Do you think, then, that it’s counter-productive for some people to spin off and show in December and June?
T.F.: It depends on if there are enough people in that place at that time. The time I showed [in Los Angeles before] the Oscars worked very, very well because everyone was here. So it depends. It’s hard for me to comment on other brands. I know that showing in New York the last two seasons has been a very good thing for me. It has really upped my press, upped brand awareness and upped women’s sales by 25 percent. I think that before I was kind of invisible. I was trying to do this and that and show in the showroom and have private presentations, and I don’t think I was part of the discussion. Showing in New York has been a terrific thing for me.
WWD: There’s a school of thought that American industry isn’t set up to do luxury.
T.F.: I like to think that I do luxury very well. That’s in the eye of the beholder.
But I don’t think that’s true at all, I mean, come on. Why would LVMH have hired Marc Jacobs if he couldn’t do luxury? Why was I at Gucci and made it so successful if I couldn’t do luxury? That’s a ridiculous thing.
WWD: That thought came via a European executive, who was speaking more about the industry infrastructure rather than design talent.
T.F.: New York still has ateliers, more than Italy does, which I find amazing…
There is a question of money. I mean, 95 percent of the European brands that we all care about and are thinking about and are talking about are owned by LVMH and Kering, and money is no object. I mean, money, assistance, manufacturing, shows, extravagance. You can’t compete with a $15 million Chanel show.
WWD: That‘s an issue — or at least a major point of difference.
T.F.: Absolutely. It is a money thing. And that goes down to your ability to have things manufactured, your ability to get samples made, your ability to have enough assistance, [to have separate teams] to design a pre-collection and the runway collection…You have so many advantages because of that money.…And no expense is spared in anything. You want to collaborate with an artist? Boom, give the artist $3 million and you can collaborate. The endorsements, the collaborations, the waste. I remember at Gucci how many samples we would make. I had rooms and rooms of them to work with right before the show. And if I didn’t use them, no big deal, they were out, and who cared? Because the only thing that matters is that you have an amazing show. So how much money you spend doesn’t matter when you are making that much money and you have that much money behind you.
So the extravagance, the waste factor, can be much higher, which means you can cover yourself. If you’re worried that maybe the shoot you’ve done isn’t right, well, guess what? If you’ve worried that the stiletto’s not right, you can make some platforms. You can just have them and not use them, and if you need them all of a sudden at the last minute, great. And if you need someone to jump on a plane and fly to the factory and remake them in another color overnight, you can do that.
WWD: Financing — definitely an issue.
T.F.: Good, I said something useful. I lived it at Gucci, I know. I know the resources I had at my fingertips. And that was then. Those resources have only increased as these brands have become bigger and bigger and bigger. I mean, those European shows — they cost a fortune, and that’s just the show. The work that goes behind it, and the merchandise and the products and the research and everything, it’s huge. And the salaries, too, that you can pay your assistants and pay people to get the best in the world. It’s another level, absolutely another level.