So, there is life for Tom Ford after Tom Ford, and seemingly a very healthy one. Judging by the slick, sleek and sophisticated debut by his long-time design director and successor, Peter Hawkings.
Ford wasn’t physically present, but his spirit seemed very alive from the silhouette to the setting in this show Thursday night in Milan.
Hawkings had his production team turn the giant ice rink of the Palazzo del Ghiaccio into a nightclub, with padded benches and an extended tunnel entrance with deep wool pile carpet. No minor shocks here. But instead of black, he went for deep chocolate, presaging the fresh color palette of the collection.
Hawkings’ menswear looked familiar, but none the worse for that. His lean silhouette, tight sleeves and statement lapels all shouted Tom Ford.
The big question was how he would acquit himself in womenswear, a key element in maintaining the brand’s heat and justifying the $2.8 billion Estée Lauder and others paid for Tom Ford’s business.
Turns out, Hawkings has plenty of design chops in womenswear, albeit referencing many of Tom’s biggest hits from Gucci. From the iconic red velvet tuxedo with satin piping, to Ford’s own interpretation of the naked back Halston dress. If anything, where Ford in his later days, seemed to be trying too hard to earn the acclaim that had deluged him while at Gucci, Hawkings’ style felt more at ease, less forced.
Beginning with all-black tough chic – alligator trench coats with patent leather thigh boots; cashmere leotard buttons open to the navel; slinky snakeskin suits with minis; cock feather femme fatale cocktails.
Adding doses of bright sherbets – orange safari mini cocktails; turquoise tuxedos and kissing pink pants suits. All accessorized with burnished gold bracelets, gold chained slingbacks and T clasp clutches.
His guys didn’t surprise, then again Hawkings has been designing it for many years, in his quarter century working with Ford. Despite the nighttime setting every single model wore sunglasses, a category where Ford has few peers in terms of building a giant licensing hit.
Backed up by a roaring dance music soundtrack of Madonna and Bjork, he climaxed with an all-gold finale, before taking his much-applauded bow and embracing his wife Whitney, whom he first met working at Gucci.
“It’s been a brilliant experience and one I have been preparing for my whole life… What’s really important to me is that what I created for men, which came from a blank sheet of paper. It’s that the Tom Ford woman comes closer to the man. I think there was disconnect before, which had to do with Tom being in LA. Now it’s under one roof, that will change,” said Hawkings, attired in an all-white suit, and sunglasses.
Above all, the collection and show felt like a triumph for Ford, precisely because there were so many looks with references and signifiers of his style. It showed his brand had plenty of depth.
Ironically, Hawkings made his debut the night before Sabato De Sarno makes his debut at Gucci, the mega brand Ford led in the 1990s in the greatest single renaissance of a moribund family marque in Italian fashion history.
In the end, one could not help thinking, given Gucci’s owner, French group Kering, declared intention to return Gucci to more classical ways after the high jinks of Alessandro Michele, that they could have done a lot worse than to hire Hawkings. His performance was that convincing.
There was a visible air of satisfaction from the Estée Lauder execs present and from Gildo Zegna, whose fashion powerhouse group acquired a 30-year Tom Ford fashion license in the deal. The show was also the test of his wager.
“Red carpet, and real life!” chortled Gildo, like a cat that had just drank three bowls of cream.
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