Few launches have been as hotly anticipated as Tom Ford’s new flagship men’s emporium, which opened on Madison Avenue last month. The most important story in global fashion in the 1990s, Ford’s tenure at Gucci is already the stuff of fashion legend. He recast a brand whose best years were well behind it (the 1970s) with a combination of selling sex, celebrity and great designs (mostly). Furthermore, he did so seemingly with an extraordinary amount of charm. Real charm is a rare trait in fashion, so Ford’s combination of discretion, elegance, and old-world masculinity (unusual for a Texan) made the world fall in love with him and his brand.
All that’s behind him now, and while reports suggesting that the post-Gucci Ford was going to take on Hollywood and manufacture dreams in another medium, that hasn’t yet panned out. Instead, he’s worked on bijoux projects – designing for Ermenegildo Zegna, collaborating with Estee Lauder, launching a fragrance – waiting to make his next move.
The Tom Ford venture in New York – with more stores to follow soon in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Milan and LA – throws down a gauntlet for high-end men’s fashion. He seeks to combine the attention to detail and personal service one finds in Saville Row with the sleek, uber-chic elegance one finds in, well, a very expensive, very modern penthouse. Cashmere and silk, marble and mirrors. There’s a butler and a maid (on display, which strikes us as just that little bit vulgar), a salon, and lots of rooms you cannot get in unless you have a previous appointment. Let’s face it, Tom Ford was never going to rely on off-the-street walk-ins buying suits that start at around $3000. And this very likely isn’t a store meant for you and me.
Ford’s focus on the very high end of men’s fashion – with an emphasis on luxury and fine tailoring – has had mixed reviews. Horatio Silver in the New York Times reported that his first visit was a ‘confounding affair’. Silver’s second visit – when the staff knew he was a Times reporter – was warmer and included champagne. Don’t expect the same treatment if you drop in, I’d wager.
It remains to be seen whether Ford can build another own-name mini-empire. No doubt the select number of Tom Ford stores slated for the next few years will help spread his vision of luxurious masculinity. But what’s the final goal all these stores? It would be a shame if all this were simply laying the ground for shifting endless fragrances, sunglasses and accessories to a global market. Luxury ought to be an end, not a means.