The designer Tom Ford shows his menswear twice each season — once in a low-key, low-ceilinged dove grey vault in Milan, on a bunch of unprepossessing racks, and again on the catwalk in New York, in a big glitzy show that is the unofficial opener of both that city’s fashion week and each season at large. He presents it there alongside womenswear in a single fashion show — as many designers do today, including Armani, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and the label where Ford got his first taste of the limelight, Gucci. Yet Ford can lay claim to being one of the first of the modern crop: at the latter label, in the mid-1990s, he showed men and women together as a means of emphasising the sexually-charged blurred gender lines in a crop of clothes that changed fashion, via men striding out in double-G-backed thongs and women in androgynous velvet trouser-suits.
AW19 was something of a redux — albeit worked for the times, and without the thongs. Ford brought up that era of Gucci himself, backstage, as a reference, and sent out a collection dominated by its menswear — namely, trousers. “It was very sexualised then,” Ford admitted of his halcyon Gucci debut collections. “But I don’t think it’s a moment to be sexual. You can’t, actually, be sexual.” Which explains why this show was buttoned-up literally and metaphorically, both sexes layered and wrapped, with nary an inch of skin showing — bar leather, which came in tailored suits and down-jackets for him.
Skin is, of course, Ford’s big thing — if not by flashing it anymore, then for his business. His fashion empire is private, but his beauty business, part of the portfolio of the Estée Lauder Companies, is on track to make $2bn by 2021 and was singled out earlier this week in the company’s second-quarter results for double-digit increases in net sales.
That business caters for both genders — Ford famously launched a skincare line of nine products specifically for men in 2013, including concealer, which then seemed radical and radically niche. It’s been a resounding success, and has paved the way for others, including last year’s launch of Boy de Chanel, that Paris fashion house’s own male-marketed make-up line.
This season, it was the same story in Tom Ford’s clothes — although rather than her make-up cabinet to his, it was the more traditional route of his wardrobe to hers. “The men’s and women’s do relate — at least I hope they did, on the runway. They’re meant to relate,” Ford said backstage. “They didn’t for a while. When I first started men’s it was quite traditional, and women’s… I didn’t start until five years after the men’s, and it was more fashion. Now, I feel the men’s and women’s collections have come together in a way. They’re a couple, they sit together. I feel they are very much the same.”
In the US now a trouser-suit on a woman is politically-charged in a way we haven’t seen since Marlene Dietrich was threatened with arrest for wearing one in Paris in 1933. It became a symbol of Hillary Clinton’s run for office, and of female empowerment more widely — they’ve been worn by American female senators in white, as a suffragist colour, and in black to show support for #metoo, as many Hollywood actresses continue to do on the red carpet. The latter was the colour Ford plumped for, mostly. “I do think that living in LA has influenced my designs,” he mused about his black trousers. “And also the climate today — the political climate.” He pauses. “I don’t mean that I wanted to do something in reaction to a specific thing in the political climate, but I feel beaten up. I feel just worn out. So I don’t want to look at aggressive clothes.”
If these clothes weren’t aggressive, they were powerful — a show of women in trousers today does look oddly powerful, in a way that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. “It’s 2019, not 1994,” said Ford. He was talking about the proportions of his garments — more fitted in the midriff for both sexes, because “I think men and women all like to have a waist” — but he could also have been talking about the power of this point of view as a whole. “I purposefully showed the men and the women in almost the same thing,” said Ford. “I think there are moments when that’s what feels right, for fashion.”
Equality? Yes. That feels right, right now. Glad someone gets it.
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