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tom ford, ford fashion designer
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Happy Birthday, Tom Ford, Fashion Designer

August 27, 2010
by Liz Colville
The American designer Tom Ford made his mark as the head designer of Gucci, transforming the brand in the late 1990s from a passé European label into a multibillion-dollar brand sought after by a wide demographic.

Tom Ford’s Early Days

Born in Austin, Texas on Aug. 27, 1962, and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tom Ford was the son of two real-estate developers. His mother was a “colorful Southern lady who had six husbands and a cupboard full of Courrèges suits. She taught him that being badly dressed was disrespectful of others,” according to a biography of Ford on Couture Candy.

Ford describes his young self as wanting to “redecorate the world”; he was quite discerning about his clothes and shoes, and in the habit of rearranging the furniture when his mother went out.

He dropped out of New York University to study architecture at the Parsons School of Design. Working as a model and training as an actor, Ford was at one point featured in 12 commercials. He spent his nights going to clubs like Studio 54 and meeting influential New Yorkers like Andy Warhol.

Ford’s Notable Accomplishments

Finishing his studies in a Parsons program in Paris, Ford decided that his calling was fashion design. “I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘What am I doing?’ … Every architectural project I ever did, I worked a dress into it somehow. So I realized that fashion was the right balance between art and commerce, and that was it.”

Back in New York City, Ford worked for Cathy Hardwick, and in 1988 made his way to Perry Ellis, where he became design director under Marc Jacobs.

Gucci was stale and in financial straits when it hired Ford to head its women’s ready-to-wear division in 1990. Domenico De Sole, the company’s lawyer, promoted Ford to creative director in 1994, launching Ford’s career and setting off a revolution at the house of Gucci. Ford blended business with fashion, and remained modest about his role as an artist.

Hours before Ford debuted his third collection for Gucci, fashion journalist Lynn Hirschberg, captured the essence of the designer backstage as Ford analyzed photographs and made last-minute edits to his fall/winter 1996 collection. “It is Ford's sense of timing,” Hirschberg wrote in New York Times Magazine, “that has made Gucci, in just three seasons, one of the most exciting fashion houses in the world.”

His exhausting work ethic did far more than resuscitate Gucci; it remade it. Gucci’s official history describes Ford’s rule as “infus[ing] the luxury brand with a sense of daring and provocation that resonates with celebrity and accomplished elite.”

The company was dubbed European Business of the Year by the European Business Press Federation in 1998 and its sales continue to climb, even after Ford’s departure in 2004. Together with its other brands, the Gucci Group made $1.34 billion in the final quarter of 2006 alone.

The Rest of the Story

Ford left Gucci in 2004 to start an eponymous fashion brand of clothing and accessories. The company opened its first store on Madison Avenue in New York City in 2006; in 2007, Ford announced he would be opening two stores in Moscow, proclaiming, “Emerging markets are the future” and Americans are “so last century.”

As a continuation of the themes he brought to Gucci, Ford’s own line is about sleek, largely monochromatic elegance and sensuality. Visit the official site of the brand at TomFord.com.

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