Before he wanted to be a famous movie director, Tom Ford wanted to be a famous movie star. Welcome to one man’s American dream. Because on a soggy Sunday night on Madison Avenue, in a sliver of an opening into which he inserted himself between Thakoon and Tommy Hilfiger’s 25th, Ford hit the trifecta.

This story first appeared in the September 13, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ford made his return to women’s fashion a masterful ode to exquisite oxymoron. It was a small-scale, high-impact show that gave the traditional fashion audience — so many of its members by now weary of big tents, pushing, shoving and Twitter-dee/Twitter-dum tent-tabloid — everything we’ve been longing for. The crowd, make that guest list, was small enough to fit, albeit snugly, into his Madison Avenue boutique, yet included many of the most important industry people who typically populate fashion’s front row. But no celebrities, unless you count his other-career colleague, Bryan Lourd. No Gossip Girls or teen bloggers, and in their absence, no paparazzi stomping on feet. Nor were there any runway photographers, the better for the famous designer-director-control freak to put out for more general consumption exactly which photographs by the house photographer (said house photographer being Terry Richardson) merit distribution. He turned the whole age-body-image conversation into pure magic, showing not on a lineup of comely teens, but, he explained in a brief welcome, “on many of the world’s most inspirational women.”

Ford then proved what a movie star personality is. Completely debonair in a newly grown beard and impeccable tuxedo, he narrated the show as if in an old film, “Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Farida Khelfa,” he said before describing her ivory silk double georgette in detail. He then proceeded on through a lineup of fabulously diverse women from Beyoncé to “The Honorable” Daphne Guinness to Natalia to his pals Rita Wilson and Lisa Eisner. And multiple model generations were well represented from Marisa Berenson to Chanel Iman — they were all adult. These are the types of women who might reasonably buy and wear Ford’s clothes, and they look fantastic. The clothes were very Ford, which is to say consummately glamorous, yet very real, from numerous takes on the smoking to gowns covered in yard-long silken fringe. They all sent the message from which Ford the designer has never veered: Looking good, looking chic, looking right is worth a little effort.

“It was so much fun,” noted the gorgeously curvy Beyoncé after the show. “It felt like a performance. It had the energy of a live show. It’s great to see people have fun in fashion.”

Flame-haired model-turned-musical artist Karen Elson proclaimed it “may be my favorite fashion show ever. The audience was happy. The women were all so happy. Every kind of woman was represented and we all felt as gorgeous as we’re ever going to look. I’m in heaven. It was so intimate, the way a fashion show should be.”

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