As Tom Ford gets a big new fashion role, what's his legacy in the industry?

20th Mar 19 | Fashion

He cut his teeth at big brands like Gucci, before going on to set up his own label and then delving into the world of film.

The 91st Academy Awards - Vanity Fair Party - Los Angeles

Tom Ford has officially been elected as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). It’s a big get for the designer, who is taking over from Diane von Furstenberg.

Women’s Wear Daily reports that reinventing New York Fashion Week, and continuing on with the CFDA’s work of tackling sustainability and diversity, will be top of Ford’s agenda when he assumes the role in June.

The CFDA’s mission statement is “to strengthen the impact of American fashion in the global economy”, and it does so by various awards and bursaries aimed towards boosting American designer profiles and giving newer names a boost.

Few in the fashion world were surprised at the appointment – Ford has been a giant in the industry for years. As he takes on this major new role, what kind of legacy does he have in the industry?

He’s worked at some of the biggest names in fashion…

Ford started his fashion career in the US, but soon made the decision to leave for Europe. He told the New York Times in 1996: “If I was ever going to become a good designer, I had to leave America. My own culture was inhibiting me. Too much style in America is tacky. It’s looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style.” Looking back, this quote might be a little bit awkward in light of his new appointment, but maybe he’s changed his mind more than 20 years later.

He proved himself a risk-taker early on by leaving New York for Milan in 1990 to be the head designer of womenswear at Gucci. This was a bold move because Gucci wasn’t then what it is now – it wasn’t seen as particularly ‘cool’ and it didn’t have much of a presence in fashion or popular culture.

Charlize Theron at the 2004 Oscars in a Gucci gown
Charlize Theron at the 2004 Oscars in a Gucci gown (Ian West/PA)

Almost against all odds, Ford changed this and a few years later was promoted to creative director of the brand. He’s credited with modernising the brand and saving it from bankruptcy – he overhauled Gucci’s aesthetic and made it much sexier and more wearable.

When the Gucci group bought the ready-to-wear division of Yves Saint Laurent in 2000, Ford started designing womenswear there as well. The designer Saint Laurent was said to be rude about Ford’s work, but Ford still managed to win prizes and plaudits for his ultra-sexy and sleek designs.

He then set up his own label…

Tom Ford SS15
Ford brought his own label to London in 2014 (Yui Mok/PA)

After leaving Gucci and YSL, in 2006 Ford finally set up his own eponymous brand. Even though he started with beauty products, he soon returned to womenswear and became known for clothes that were characteristically glamorous.

Nowadays, many designers start their own labels straight out of university, but Ford thinks they would benefit from working at big brands first like he did. He tells the Business of Fashion: “A lot of young designers jump into the business before they have the experience they need. We forgot the value of learning and industry… It’s not just the creative element, it’s everything else.” Chances are this will be a viewpoint he brings to his new role at the CFDA.

Another thing Ford has become known for is his close relationship with celebrities. He was almost ahead of his time and realised that being close friends with famous faces and dressing them for the red carpet would only boost his profile. With his well-tailored, elegant yet sexy style, he’s become a formalwear favourite of everyone from Julianne Moore, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna to Naomi Watts, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ford has also made himself part of this cult of celebrity by carefully curating his own public persona. He’s become well-known for only ever wearing a sharp suit and being a very discerning type of man with some memorable quirks – such as having around four baths a day, as he told Harpers Bazaar back in 2012.

He’s never been shy of controversy…

Like many fashion designers, Ford isn’t a stranger to drama. With such sexy clothes, he’s often matched this with extremely provocative advertising – you might remember the much-complained about Opium perfume ad featuring a nude Sophie Dahl. In fact, a lot of people have noticed just how much of his advertising includes nearly-naked women.

He’s been accused of objectifying women in his campaigns, however in 2015 he told the Guardian: “I’m an equal opportunity objectifier – I’m just as happy to objectify men. The thing is, you can’t show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. We’re very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men.”

He works outside of fashion as well…

Ford (second from left) and the stars of his film A Single Man
Ford (second from left) and the stars of his film A Single Man (Ian West/PA)

The fashion industry is quite an insular one, and yet Ford has shown that he’s not content with just designing. In 2009 he made his directorial debut with the adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

In 2016 he directed Nocturnal Animals, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. Both films were broadly well-received, and showed off his background as a fashion designer with beautiful clothes and elegant cinematography.

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