On Wednesday, Tom Ford announced that he has released his last collection under his eponymous label. Ford first launched his label over a decade ago, and in August of last year, Ford sold his label for $3 billion to Estée Lauder– making it the biggest luxury deal of 2022.
Swooping in like vultures, came the predictions of designers set to take over Ford’s role as creative director. On Friday, the brand announced that Central Saint Martins graduate Peter Hawkins , will be taking the helm at Tom Ford. Not only naming a new creative director but also a new CEO, Guillaume Jesel. Tom Ford is making big changes under Estée Lauder…
But it makes me wonder, can a new creative lineup ever live up to the legacy in the public opinion set by their predecessor? Often revered as untouchables (YSL, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Givenchy, McQueen), it’s hard for today’s creative directors (Anthony Vacarello, Pharrell Willams, Demna Gvasalia, Mathew Williams, Sarah Burton, respectively) to live up to their predecessors- or maybe it’s just hard for people to accept change. Tom Ford’s expansive career argues both sides through his various roles at Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and his eponymous house.
After leaving Gucci, Tom Ford took his sleek silhouettes and unique sex appeal with him. But his work for Gucci is slightly more sophisticated in comparison to the soft punk at his eponymous label, and both differ from his work at Yves Saint Laurent- This proves one of the biggest challenges faced in bridging business and fashion, finding a team that can balance commerciality while staying truthful to the house’s history. Each brand has different aesthetics and design methods, meaning even shows produced under the same designer have distinctive results, and finding the right creative director is a trial-and-error task.
Taking a look at Tom Ford’s career, it’s the perfect example of this argument. With the exception of Alber Elbaz’s brief one-season stint at YSL in 1988. In 1999 Tom Ford was the first designer after Saint Laurent himself to take over at YSL . For the brand’s 30-some years, every show was produced under its eponymous founder leaving Ford with enormous shoes to fill.
And reportedly when Ford began to deviate from house codes, he got letters written from Saint Laurent himself, infamously stating “In 13 minutes on the runway you have destroyed 40 years of my career”. While now Ford’s work earns intense praise, obviously Yves himself thought otherwise. When the brand leaves the hands of its owner, the house codes are bound to change, so can a brand ever be as good as it is under its eponymous founder?
I think present designers like Daniel Roseberry for Schiaparelli will in time take on similar levels of praise once the newness of their work wears off. Like people’s opinions towards Galliano and later McQueen at Givenchy. But would their work be approved by Schiaparelli and Givenchy themselves? Most likely not. And with all due respect to Demna Gvasalia, I’m not sure Christobal Balenciaga would approve of the brand as of recently. But couldn’t the same be said for anyone born in the late 1800s? They barely had cars and phones, I think seeing something like the Demnas SS23 Balenciaga show might send them into a coma.
That being said, fashion is not a constant medium, trends are bound to come and go, and always look different in the rearview. So designers like Gvasalia push old couture houses in a new direction, not inherently a worse one, just a new one, proving that a house can improve into the next decade even under a new different creative regime.
On a positive aspect, Tom Ford is also known and praised for bringing the Gucci brand up from bankruptcy, being valued at almost $1 billion at the end of his tenure. And in the process, he made the brand more commercial while keeping with the roots of the brand like strong tailoring and leatherwork. If you can’t agree from a creative standpoint, the numbers alone prove Ford did well for the brand.
It’s almost an ethics question unique to fashion, in terms of balancing art and business, in cases where the eponymous designer cannot physically be head of a brand anymore or is not around to decide the future. For a painter or a singer, once gone, nobody will continue making art under their name. But in fashion, it’s not just an art form, it’s business, so when the designer is gone, what happens to the brand, a brand with employees to support and a large consumer base to satisfy?
Artistically the vision each designer brings to a brand is different, and finding the right designer, especially when such an esteemed designer leaves is a pressure. You wouldn’t put Maria Grazia Chiuri at Balenciaga or Demna Gvasalia at Chanel for example.
When Marc Jacobs brought punk into the ever-preppy Perry Ellis in spring 1993, he got fired. And despite a popular tenure, Alessandro Michelle and Gucci parted ways in 2022 due to their respective creative differences. Proving that finding a designer who can not only mesh with the brand, but keep up with the times is harder than imagined.
Finding a creative director for a brand isn’t about finding a new Tom Ford but somebody with similar design concepts in a broad sense and the ability to bring the brand forward in a new direction while respecting and referencing the brand’s past.
In an ever-so-dramatic fashion, Ford debuted his last collection as a surprise, comprising 13 looks from his career, in a way very true to himself and the brand. My final thoughts are that a house can live on past the absence of its founder with the right creative director to bring the house forward while still staying true to house codes. And as for Tom Ford (the brand), Hawkins has worked alongside Ford (the man) for 25 years, so surely the brand is in good hands with a familiar face.