Fashion ShowsTom Ford's Plan to Change Shopping for Good Starts Tonight
As the first luxury brand to show a complete see now, buy now collection for Fall 2016, Ford is betting big that stylish people just want good clothes—without waiting around for them.
Tom Ford has never half-assed anything. At least, if we're going by the designer's impeccable track record—the one where he creates some of the world's finest menswear season after season without fail—we're definitely led to believe he's not the type who ever phones it in. After all, when Ford wanted to get guys excited about wearing tailoring again, he came up with the ultimate power suit. And when he wanted to create a premium shopping experience unlike anything else out there for rich dudes, he went and opened pristine stores that define retail porn. And then there was the time he decided he should get into the movie business, so he directed, wrote, and produced the critically-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated A Single Man.
So when Ford looked at the seasonal fashion calendar his company—and just about every other brand—was aligned with and realized, as he said in a press release, it was "…an antiquated idea and one that no longer make sense," he didn't try and work within the system to change things. (Fashion standard operating procedure reveals collections five to six months before those pieces ever hit store shelves.) Instead, he broke out of it and joined the see now, buy now ranks with designers like Burberry's Christopher Bailey.
After taking a season off to reset, Ford returns to the runway, and New York Fashion Week for the first time in six years, tonight with men's and women's collections available for immediate purchase after the intimate show. (If you're interested in ogling it all, the event, which will take place in what remains of the recently-shuttered Four Seasons restaurant, is live streaming on tomford.com.) Naturally, for a man as industrious as Ford, this big business strategy shift came together during the making of his second feature film, Nocturnal Animals, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, and goes into action just days after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival (the reviews so far: it's really, really good.). We caught up with the exacting designer at this NYC flagship shop to talk about his new approach to immediate gratification and how he balances being good at, well, everything.
Tom Ford: So what’s the focus of our conversation? Fashion? Film? Everything?
GQ: We want insight into how the busiest man in fashion does it all.
I don’t know that I’m the busiest man in fashion. I’m busy.
Okay. But you do have a Millennial’s mentality. You have no problem dipping your toes into many different projects at the same time, and you attack each with a sense of fearlessness. Would you agree to that?
I just do what I want to do and I think that’s the freedom that money gives you—and I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. For me, it buys freedom. It buys the ability for me to say, “hey, I’m going to show see now, buy now” and “I’m going to make a movie and this and that.” That’s the benefit of a lot of hard work—it gets you the ability to do the things you believe in. But I don’t know if I answered your question.
What is your personal Ford method for getting it all done?
Scheduling. I have a really tight schedule and I love schedules. I even have to schedule non-schedule time.
How do you balance the workload that comes with directing a feature film while still overseeing a massive global fashion brand?
Well for a movie, I have about a year to prepare everything I need to do. It’s only for the shooting period that you really can do nothing else. It’s two months where you can not even answer an email. Editing is different. I set up an editing suite in my office, edit for three or four hours, work on the collection for three or four hours, edit…
Did Nocturnal Animals or the making of the film inspire this collection in any way?
No. They are so separate. I even forbid any Tom Ford products in that film. There were no Tom Ford products in A Single Man, but in the end I did make some of those things and put them in the store.
You have the freedom to shift your company to a see now, buy now calendar, but was that decision informed by customer feedback?
No, that stemmed from someone saying the word long lead to me and I thought, “What the fuck is that word?” Long lead? Oh, that’s modern. Nobody wants long lead. I want it now. If you can buy something online and have it delivered in the same day as you can in New York or London, why would you want to see something and not be able to get it for five months? After 30 years I really just wanted something new.
A teaser for the upcoming see now, buy now show.
Why did you think this was the right show season to make this move?
I had researched it, we figured out how to do it logistically—which is quite simple, by the way—but at the last minute I didn’t have the guts to do it until I walked into my office one morning and read that Christopher Bailey was doing it. I picked up the phone and I said, “Goddammit, I was going to do this! You beat me to it! I’m going to do it too.” And I hung up and said, “Send out that press release!”
Was it challenging to change course when you’ve been doing things one way for so long?
It’s very easy because I designed the collections the same time as I would normally. I put together a show—this outfit, that outfit, this jacket, those shoes—as though I were doing a show. And then the buyers came, stores bought it, everyone signed a NDA [nondisclosure agreement] so it couldn’t go out, couldn’t be Instagram-ed, and luckily everyone has stuck to that.
In this age where privacy is an afterthought and spoilers are everywhere, are you surprised—happily so—that nothing has leaked?
I am surprised. And happy. Then we put [the collection] all away. It’s hanging in every one of our 122 stores right now. The night of the show, that merchandise will go in all the windows all over the world. Right after the show, up comes the site with every outfit that you can buy. I think it’s going to be really cool if it works. I may be the only one who does it with Christopher Bailey and Yeezy or whatever his name is [laughs] and Tommy Hilfiger—and then nobody might do it.
But you still maintain the buzz-iness that comes from having a splashy runway show during New York Fashion Week, right?
The way we’re doing it, you have to think of it as a television show. You have to get people to want to tune into the live stream. So there’s a ten-minute arrival part captured by 22 cameras everywhere. There are cocktails—where I’ll be because the clothes are already designed. I want everyone to get drunk and have a fun. It sounds amazing. It could be…a disaster.
Fashion as entertainment seems to be the way a lot of designers and brand want to approach runway shows today. You certainly have the skillset to excel at that approach…
I think it needs to be entertainment, but the clothes have to be good. ‘Cause those clothes are hanging in the shop the next day and people have to put them on and their ass has to look good.
Do you think that’s where other designers might fail with this approach? Thinking of the clothes as second to the experience or the marketing?
Well I’m not going as far as a Victoria’s Secret show. I’m not making angel wings. Even though I just said what I said, our fashion show isn’t so much entertainment as it’s a cool party you wish you could be at, so you tune in to see it. More like "Playboy After Dark" in the ‘60s.
Do you think a see now, buy now strategy could move more “it” items in a collection? There won’t be any consumer fatigue before pieces actually hit shelves…
Or it might not work at all. Because we might find that people are actually insecure and they need to see other people wearing it in magazines before they think that they can wear it. I don’t know.
So how are you going to gauge the success of this big strategy shift?
Ask me the week after and I’ll tell you what our sales are. We always sell everything we send down the runway, but we might say, “oh, we’re only going to sell four of those and two of those but this magazine is going to shoot it so we need it.” For this, the bellwether is sales. It might take clothes back to what people actually want to wear.