Tom Ford knows how to seize the moment. In a fascinating fashion career, he has delivered several benchmark show moments, among them: Amber Valletta in the Gucci spotlight, the show that solidified Ford’s place as one of the most influential designers of the Nineties; cutout white jersey; blue velvet Saint Laurent; the emotional Gucci goodbye; his intimate return to the runway in 2010, when he enlisted high-profile friends to walk his show, and now, his celebratory Los Angeles extravaganza.
Taking his fall show to Los Angeles as a kickoff of sorts to the various Oscar events was a brilliant move only Ford could have pulled off. It brought together both of his professional careers — fashion and film directing — and put him in the Oscars spotlight.
“The fear factor about showing in front of all these people I know, professionals in the entertainment industry, really helped me,” Ford said after the show. “It pushed me.”
It also made for a distinct mood. For starters, the preshow cocktail felt like a real party, populated by people who wanted to be there as opposed to so many of the events during the regular stops on the fashion train, when fashion professionals go to get credit for going. Those of us who attend fashion shows for a living can forget how fascinating the process is from the outside, even in this age of live-streaming, and even for an uberfancy audience.
Ford’s Hollywood guests, including Oscar nominees Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson,
Miley Cyrus, Jay Z and Beyoncé, J.Lo and on and on, could not have been more glamorous, more high-profile, more accomplished. And they gave every sign of wanting to be there.
They settled in for a show that played directly to them while incorporating retrospective moments. White roses covered the runway. Anyone who was at the 2004 exit show from Gucci in Milan (and there weren’t that many) got the reference immediately. That show ended in a shower of petals, but wistfully so. The chic-comfort seating — low, gray flannel banquettes with ample rear-end room for all — recalled that of his Saint Laurent tenure. And some of the stars in attendance, all dressed by Ford, wore looks from past Gucci and YSL collections that he designed and to which he retains marketing access.
The runway pulsed with a Southwestern vibe informed by the styles of two of Ford’s favorite people.
“My career has swung quite a bit between Carine Roitfeld and Lisa Eisner,” he said. “Coming to Los Angeles, there was totally Lisa Eisner although a lot of Carine, as well.”
Read: a fusion of West Coast bohemia and French intrigue.
Ford opened surprisingly, with a prairie-cum-milkmaid motif: a trio of Empire-waist dresses and tops with scoop necks, the former with soft, tiered skirts. Asked about the milkmaid look, he deadpanned, “There always has to be an erogenous zone. If you’re giving up the hips, you have to focus somewhere else.”
Those few full-ish silhouettes aside, Ford favored curvy skirts with fabulous, demonstrative outerwear. He focused on patchworks of skins, denim and vibrant color blocks that made graphic, celebratory designs, and gave a nod to vintage-loving L.A. style. It was all flamboyant yet real, and one could see Ford having fun on the runway, particularly when he transferred the colorful, undulating collages to evening.
This also had something to say about the show system in general. These days, few fashion shows feel like events; there are just too many of them, the process has become too harried — yet at the same time, rote. Ford saw a marketing opportunity and grabbed it. Certainly, it’s not a format that could work on a large scale; embraced by even a handful of designers, single, major-season shows in far-flung cities would be a logistical nightmare. But by going Hollywood for a season, Ford did something different and powerful, proving that there are alternatives to the standard show approach. It just takes creative thinking and a certain fearlessness to put them into play.