Tom Ford on keeping classic fresh; showing in New York and why he ain’t for sale

“I do classic clothes, and of course every season in fashion we constantly update, which is not as easy as it seems,” says Tom Ford, as he presents his spring menswear in a private appointment in Milan.

“Last season was very somber, so this season we wanted lots of color. But in a rather 70s way. With layers, layers and layers of color,” enthuses the Texan designer, as young men slide by in a series of spectacular marbleized jacquard tuxedos.

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Models paraded around his via Borgonuovo headquarters in sleek two-button suits; and oversized cargo pants and jeans, “to make them a little bit sloppier!” laughs the always impeccably dressed Ford.

The season effectively marks Ford’s 10th anniversary as an independent fashion house, since he opened his first store in 2007. Today he boasts an impressive network of 128 stores worldwide, 26 fully-owned.

Ford’s house began life by offering classical opulence, developing all their own fabrics from scratch. Yet has gradually added touches of posh edge; bold camouflage safari jackets or jean jackets made in suede, with a faux  leopard print. He has also successfully imparted his signature DNA to his accessories, like the gold chains that he places on all moccasins. Plus, he remains a great tailor, offering four different types of lapels with his jackets.

“I was never really into narrow lapels, even when everyone else was doing them. They make it look like you cannot afford enough fabric. And, my head is not small. So, if you put on a tiny lapel, they make my head look too big. You can have fun with that,” chuckles Ford, with his matinee idol voice, dressed in a lean black suit, and thick black silk tie.

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Ford splits his life between LA and London, where he has lately moved to Regent’s Park, into, what he terms, “one of those great, Crown Estate, English heritage estate houses. “ His fashion career though is split between the UK and Italy, where much of what he designs in manufactured. However, his runway life has been peripatetic, as he spent the past half-decade shifting his shows, format, casting – a mix of great actresses, beautiful friends and professional models – and locations. Variously staging shows in London, New York and LA.

“But this time I am showing in New York in September. A proper show, a proper runway. Proper everything. And, I am going to stay there for a few seasons. I tried quite a few different ideas. I tried to fight the whole thing but it didn’t work. The problem is that the fashion season is not on the same calendar as the show season. When I did Buy Now Wear Now in September normally those clothes would have been in the store in June or July, but I had to hold them and lost that six or eight weeks of selling. And, already in October we had to start markdowns, meaning reducing prices when my clothes had only been in our stores for six weeks. So, we lost a lot of time and that was the problem,” he shrugs.

Ford quit Gucci – a brand he had built to superstar status – rather acrimoniously in 2004 after falling out with the company’s new French owners. However, in a remarkable tour de force he has gone on to create his own brand, with around one billion euros of annual sales.

Last year, Ford’s beauty business achieved sales of 750 million a year at retail, up 52% in a year. Yet, Ford cautioned:  “We have very tight distribution with our eyewear. Yes, our price point is high. Yet, we sell 1.5 million frames per year. We are growing rapidly, but in a very controlled way.”

He declined to talk about precise results, but insisted, “We have a very good company, but I am not going to talk money now.” Still, it is common knowledge that hedge funds have eyed Ford’s business, given its impressive sales growth, designer talent and rock star reputation.

“I built my own business so I could do my own thing. And make movies, and show when I want. I left Gucci with enough money to not work for the rest of my life. So, I like doing what I do. So, I am not for sale.”