Tom Ford for Gucci purple sequin gown, 2004
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Tom Ford for Gucci purple sequin gown, 2004
About the Designer
No one understands sex appeal quite like American designer Tom Ford.
An avowed perfectionist from an early age, Ford was rearranging furniture at the age of six and offering his mother advice on her hair and shoes. The designer, author, film director and chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is one of the most successful people working in fashion today.
Born in Austin, Texas, Ford grew up in the suburbs of Houston and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He briefly attended New York University, where he studied art history before dropping out to pursue acting. He became a regular at Studio 54, with its decadent nightlife later informing his high-octane fashion. He studied architecture at Parsons School of Design before shifting his focus to fashion and spending time at the Parsons Paris campus, graduating in 1985. The rest of the decade he worked for designers Perry Ellis and Cathy Hardwick. In 1990, Gucci’s creative director Dawn Mello hired him as a womens-wear designer.
At the time, the Italian label was better known for leather goods than luxury fashion. It was also nearly bankrupt. After Mello left in 1994, following a Bahrain-based investment group becoming Gucci’s majority shareholder, Ford was named creative director. He soon infused the brand with a fresh sensuality and bold style. His fall 1995 show, in which Kate Moss walked down the runway in an unbuttoned satin shirt, velvet hip-huggers and tousled hair, heralded an exciting, glammed-up era for the once fusty brand. Vogue critic Sarah Mower called it “one of those hitting-in-the-solar-plexus moments.”
As Ford shot to fame, he continued to explore plunging necklines, such as in the black and white looks of the Fall 1996 collection, and sumptuous fabrics like leather and tweed, with the Fall 2000 ready-to-wear collection ranging from sultry silk evening dresses to plush belted coats. He also cranked up the seduction in the provocative ads for the fashion house, particularly with regard to campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, which Gucci acquired in 1999 (Ford was also named creative director for YSL and designed the brand’s ready-to-wear collection). Gucci's Fall/Winter 1997 campaign featured Carolyn Murphy grasping Angela Lindvall in what looked like a video still; in another shot, a face pressed against a foot in a lipstick-red heel. Each promoted a vision of modern fashion where women were sexually confident, the materials were luxurious and the styles were fearless.
In 2004, Ford and Gucci president Domenico De Sole left the company after failing to agree on the renewal of their contracts. In 2006, with De Sole as chairman, Ford launched his wildly successful eponymous menswear label. The brand has expanded into womens wear, beauty, accessories — vintage Tom Ford handbags are universally adored by celebrities and collectors alike — as well as eyewear and fragrance, with the unisex Black Orchid introduced in 2006. Ford broke into film directing with the critically acclaimed A Single Man in 2009 and Nocturnal Animals in 2016, continuing to blur the boundaries between fashion and culture.
About the Manufacturer
Long before trend-bucking creative director Alessandro Michele brought his hallucinatory “Utopian Fantasy” campaign to Gucci, it was a modest Italian leather shop. Today, it’s an internationally renowned luxury house with an iconic logo, and vintage Gucci clothing, handbags and shoes are among high fashion's most covetable goods.
Guccio Gucci (1881–1953) admired the stylish suitcases he saw wealthy guests arrive with at the Savoy Hotel in London, where he worked as a bellhop. So, in 1921, after a stint at Franzi, a luggage company in his hometown of Florence, he opened a leather goods shop of his own.
At first, Gucci’s Florence business specialized in equestrian accessories. But as its reputation flourished, particularly among the English aristocracy, so too did its footprint. In 1938, he brought three of his sons — Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo — into the business and expanded it to Rome and later Milan. In the mid-1930s, a League of Nations embargo against Italy pushed Gucci to experiment with alternatives to imported leather. Its woven hemp fabric from Naples, adorned with the brand’s signature diamond print, was a hit, especially among A-list celebrities. The material was first used on suitcases before finding enduring popularity on handbags. (No list of revered designer purses would be complete without Gucci.)
In the 1950s, Elizabeth Taylor carried one of Gucci’s bamboo-handled tote bags, another adaptation to material rationing. After Jackie Kennedy was seen sporting a slouchy Gucci tote in 1961, it was renamed for the First Lady. Then Grace Kelly, on a visit to the boutique in Milan, inspired Rodolfo Gucci to work with Italian illustrator and Gucci textile designer Vittorio Accornero on the Flora print in 1966. Taking cues from Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, with its pattern of flora and insects, it was painted entirely by hand and featured no fewer than 37 colors.
In 1953, just 15 days after opening his first store on New York’s 5th Avenue, Guccio passed away at 72. The early 1970s saw store openings in Tokyo and Hong Kong, but by the late 1980s, Gucci was floundering. Rodolfo Gucci took charge in 1982, but family drama and lawsuits ensued. In 1993, Rodolfo’s son, Maurizio, transferred his shares in the company to Investcorp, ending the family’s involvement in Gucci. Dawn Mello, then-president of Bergdorf Goodman, joined as creative director in 1989. But it was Tom Ford, who took over as creative director in 1994, who ultimately revived the brand.
Ford’s racy ads, shot by photographers such as Mario Testino, stirred controversy. And his potent vision of sexed-up femininity — with “jewel-toned satin shirts unbuttoned to there,” as Vogue described his breakthrough 1995 runway show — was wildly successful. The new millennium brought new ownership — Pinault Printemps Redoute in 2004 — and a more toned-down vision from Frida Giannini, who became sole creative director in 2006. Alessandro Michele was named creative director in 2015, and the storied brand took a giant leap forward.
Find vintage Gucci clothing and accessories on 1stDibs.
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