How TOM FORD is rewriting the rules of creating a luxury brand

Today almost fifty year old, Tom Ford has been a fashion designer for 25 years.  At the end of September he launched his first women’s line under his own label during an unusual fashion show which has generated huge international media coverage despite the fact that no photos of the actual collection were released after the event. He is not only a talented fashion designer but has an innate marketing sense. It is this unique mix of qualities which he mastered during his years of creative director at Gucci, a brand which he is accredited for having revived and reinvented following its decline of the Italian fashion house in the 80’s. After he left Gucci, he launched his own men’s line, masterfully positioning it as high end, top luxury, defined by a contemporary classic design. From the tasteful and extremely expensive concept of his stores, to the impeccable quality of its suits and accessories, the Tom Ford men’s brand is perceived as a one of the finest, in direct competition with legendary men’s brands such as Brioni,  Kiton or Corneliani. His recently launched women’s line impeccably complements the men’s line establishing the Tom Ford brand as a true luxury brand. In a world dominated by the historical luxury brands, Tom Ford has succeeded in creating and imposing a young luxury brand in a very short period of time.

What is the secret behind this success? – his independence which allows him to create freely. In an interview published in this month’s French Vogue, Tom Ford speaks about how bored he was during his last two years at Gucci, when he felt he was only working for more and more money. He speaks about losing the ‘’joy’’ and the ‘’fun’’ which provided him the inspiration which generated the huge success of his early years at Gucci. He also explains in the interview that when he is going to feel bored, he will give up and sell his own business. After leaving Gucci his first smart move was to sign two licence agreements, one with Italian luxury eyewear manufacturer Marcolin and another one with cosmetics and fragrances giant Estee Lauder. Banking on the huge awareness of his name, he sold over 1 million sunglasses and his fragrances which are widely present worldwide in every department store, airport, fragrance shop, have sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. These licensing deals have provided the base for his financial independence and are fuelling his investments in his own fashion lines.

Then, it took him four years to produce and direct his first movie, ‘’A Single Man’’ which has been very well received by critics and the audiences, collecting numerous prestigious awards. This move has once again increased his notoriety, reaching a wider audience but in a much more subtle way. It is the first time in the history of fashion when a successful designer is also a successful movie director/producer. The plot of the movie was also a brilliant choice, generating controversy, yet providing an educational angle. The movie provided him with the possibility of communicating with his fans, followers and admirers in ways that fashion only would not be able to provide. Photography is yet another way he expresses his visions. Influenced by famed American photographer Steven Klein, Tom Ford’s photography work is dramatic, bold and breathtaking.  

Reading in between the lines of his interviews and watching his amazing photography in the latest French Vogue, I could grasp his strategy for marketing his women’s line. In one of the editorials in the French Vogue he pictures a very elegant, ‘’old money’’ elderly couple, passionately embracing and kissing. The excessive light and make up purposely reveal the lines and wrinkles on the hands and faces of the two models. In the editorial he speaks about his fascination with women and men who age beautifully, yet naturally, with minimal interventions. Most of the celebrity models in his women’s fashion show were mostly over 40 (Lauren Hutton, Julianne Moore, Daphne Guinness, Amber Valetta etc). Tom Ford says:  ‘’It is about individuality. Real clothes, real women. For a fashionable woman aged 25 to 75. That’s why I literally put many of my own muses in the show. I hear them say, “God, I can’t find that anywhere!”  ‘I want this to be somewhere a woman knows she can go when she wants a great jacket—not a fake expensive jacket, something that has intrinsic value.  ‘’I don’t think fashion has to change every five minutes. I’d like these to be clothes you can wear for a long time—ten, 20 years; pass on to your daughter. Why buy vintage when you can open your own closet!’’

Does this mean he is going to target more mature women? Not necessarily. He not only destroys the myth that fashion can only be shown by skinny, young and beautiful women, but also creates a trend to worship the beautifully, naturally aging women. This will position his brand in a rank of its own, having no competition, as being unique. The tag line behind his message is ‘’respect’’, which is a very powerful and long lasting message.

His innovative approach to ban all photography at the fashion show which was attended only by 100 guests and release the photos two months later was just another clever marketing strategy. This helped not only create a huge interest and curiosity but also has ensured he dominates the most important Vogue covers in the world in the December holidays issue.

And we should expect even more ‘’surprises’’ from Tom Ford while his is ‘’having fun’’ creating probably the first true luxury brand in more than half a century.

Oliver Petcu