According to the fashion calendar, Tom Ford wasn't supposed to be on stage Sunday night at the Golden Globes. Instead of arriving on the arm of Julianne Moore and presenting an award alongside Lady Gaga, he was scheduled to present a runway collection in London on Monday, Jan. 11. That was according to the fashion show schedule for London Collections Men, released in November. For the first time ever, the multitalented American (he of godlike manliness and power lapels) was set to stage a full-scale catwalk production for his Autumn/Winter 2016 menswear collection in his adopted city of London. Editors, buyers, and staunch consumers rejoiced; the provocateur-showman was back.
But then, just as mysteriously as he appeared on the week’s official schedule, he disappeared. The show was canceled, a statement via his public-relations team followed. Ford was instead returning to New York Fashion Week in February to show both his men's and women's Autumn/Winter 2016 collections in small, intimate presentations to key fashion retailers and press.
The unconventional move was not surprising for Ford; he’s become known among insiders for rebelling against the fashion industry’s regimented calendar. For years, he's experimented with different formats to present his designs. For his Autumn/Winter 2015 womenswear collection, he hosted a runway show in the anti-fashion capital Los Angeles—the Friday night before the Academy Awards—to an A-list front row. This past season, he presented his Spring/Summer 2016 collection with a disco music video featuring Lady Gaga and a bevy of leggy models wearing his '70s-inspired, psychedelic creations.
Ford can do this because he isn’t anchored in any one place—except, perhaps, the red carpet. When it comes time for awards season (which kicked off this Sunday with the Golden Globes), his clothes triumph, particularly on the very famous men he dresses.
“One of the most effective ways Ford showcases his designs is by dressing celebrities on the red carpet, with the world’s paparazzi and social media diffusing the images globally within seconds,” says Dan Rookwood, U.S. editor at luxury online retailer and destination Mr Porter. “The red carpet is his true catwalk; celebrities his models.”
Simply put, Ford has learned to wring the marketing and PR benefits that other brands get from staging a dramatic runway show during fashion week out of the January-through-March awards season.
The Ford Method
Plenty of brands capitalize on the attention they get from dressing celebrities for events; for an up-and-coming brand, even one appearance on a major red carpet can change the stakes for their business. For many years now it's been a big part of the fashion game. Yet until relatively recently, this was mostly meaningful for just womenswear designers, whose gowns always tend to be the focal point of the pre-show coverage. As Rookwood points out, “Ten or even five years ago, no one seemed to care what men wore on the red carpet. The interviewers never asked men, ‘Who are you wearing?’ Tom Ford changed that.”
Wendell Brown, senior fashion editor at Esquire, agrees: "He's one of a few designers who actually courts men and treats menswear as a priority rather than an afterthought. He designs for, and creates, men who see dressing up as a pleasure and not a required burden."
The designer's personal fame, plus the ubiquity of his flattering suits—at Sunday's Globes, he dressed Michael Fassbender, Will Smith, and Nicholas Hoult—make the red carpet a great showcase for what he could do for a regular customer: a man (with money) watching at home.
“His designs make men look like men—with his signature strong shoulders, bold lapels, and trim waist," notes celebrity stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who dressed her clients nominee Rami Malek and presenter Chris Evans for Sunday's ceremony. "The result is a very masculine sort of elegance.”
From Gucci to Glam Cam
In 2005, Ford launched his eponymous megabrand (Tom Ford International also has a successful beauty division via a partnership with Estée Lauder, and an eyewear line produced by the Marcolin Group) after breaking from a long, successful tenure at the Gucci Group—now known as Kering. There, he had served as creative director of top luxury brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, making glamorous, sleek dresses and accessories—but Ford’s identity as a designer has always been about the sharp suit and his meticulous tailoring.
Ford debuted his eponymous menswear line in 2007 with the goal to serve the well-lived male customer who appreciates not only how his clothes look, but how they fit and feel. He’s been both praised and criticized for being too much of a commercial designer, but he celebrates his glamorous wearability. In fact, the idea of fancy clothes that you actually like to wear has become the brand’s signature sensibility and what makes him so desirable to Hollywood’s elite.
“I use his suits and tuxes on clients whenever I can because of the construction and quality,” says Urbinati. “I find that his suiting needs the most minimal amount of additional tailoring; my guys nearly just slip right in to his clothes perfectly.”
But, she adds, "Only a few of my clients get to wear it." Ford and the people who manage his brand are notoriously protective of the brand's identity and practice an "invite-only" selection process to decide who gets to wear Ford's covetable evening attire. (Just ask Hayden Panettiere.)
“The name Tom Ford definitely has an empowering psychology about it,” says Esquire editor Brown. “To wear it feels like a certain kind of armor. Ford understands that men want to look bold, sexy, and masculine and want to have the confidence to make a fashion statement in that James Bond or Bond villain kind of way.”
Formally Dressed for Success
Tom Ford wouldn't share numbers for how much the brand's business relies on red-carpet buzz, but his ability to flout the standard conventions of the fashion weeks—and still be beloved by shoppers and magazine editors—pays testament to how well this strategy works. (He has previously noted to WWD, however, that he has never and will never pay for a red-carpet get.) He's picked a niche, and it's high-end formalwear.
“Clearly we see a lift in sales of formal clothing [in general] during the event season, especially in New York and Los Angeles," says Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for men's at Barneys New York. "We keep an eye on all the award ceremony dates with the intent to peak our inventories and assortments to meet the demand. We've gone so far as to even set up a Barneys Oscar Week 'Bungalow' inside our Beverly Hills store. When the Met Ball in New York specified 'white tie' as the dress code, our sales of white formal clothes peaked.”
In other words, for a brand like Tom Ford, awards season is "Go Time."
"Tom Ford is 'owning' men's formalwear and I suspect this is a calculated decision," says Rookwood. "And it's clever because formalwear is about glamour, it's about sexiness, it's about dressing up and looking your best. And so all of this has become synonymous with Tom Ford."
He adds, "When I think of Justin Timberlake, Colin Firth, Bradley Cooper, or Daniel Craig … I think of them wearing Tom Ford. They may also wear other designers, and indeed they all do, but the first designer I associate with them is Tom Ford.”
Nic Screws is the style director at Bloomberg.