ON BEING A FASHION DESIGNER
Tom Ford: On Being a Fashion Designer, Unauthorized working biography by Ricky Lee. (Fall 2006).
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Born in Texas in 1962 Tom Ford became arguably the most famous and influential designer of the last decade.
After moving to New York at 17, Ford first enrolled at New York University where he studied art history then switched to architecture at Parsons School of Design. His days were spent sketching fashions that would eventually bring him fame and fortune. His nights were spent hobnobbing with the rich and famous at the legendary Studio 54.
In 1986 Ford was given his first break by designer Cathy Hardwick. Two years later he joined the design team at Perry Ellis. By 1990 Tom had moved to Milan and began working at Gucci as women’s wear designer. Within two years he’d climbed the corporate ladder to become Gucci’s Creative Director.
Over the next ten years, Ford and his business partner, Domenico De Sole restored Gucci’s faded glory by adding a combination of sex and swagger to Gucci signature looks and by marketing those looks with a savvy and keen sense of business acumen and strategy. In the process, the company went from $263 million in revenues during Ford's first year as creative director to $3.2 billion by the time he left in April 2004 after a showdown with the company’s management over creative control.
In effect, Tom Ford redesigned Gucci (and himself), and led it on a rags-to-riches journey from near-bankrupt also-ran to an icon of high-fashion glamour. By the time the talented Texan (who had become fashion’s biggest and brightest star) took his final bow on the Milan runway in February 2004, the fashion industry asked itself, Is this the end of fashion? Who's bigger--the designer or the brand? Ford left them to ponder those questions while he made plans to take on Hollywood, leaving behind fashion with plans of becoming a film director.
Ricky Lee is a New York-based journalist whose work has appeared in
The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News,
and The New York Post. He has also written for Vanity Fair, Allure,
Rolling Stone, among other publications. He was the founding fashion
editor of Vibe magazine and is currently at work on his first novel,
The Excellent People.