Finding Fortune: Tom Ford

4.15.2014

By Sureme Laster Bey

After decades in the shadows of legendary fashion houses, Tom Ford is more than ready for his close-up.

“Ford not only created a Tom Ford look but personified it, becoming a face in front of the label: rakish, confident, a celebrity of luxury,” beams Wall Street Journal about American-born fashion designer Tom Ford, who has an estimated net worth of $70 million. He transformed luxury brands Gucci and YSL from struggling fashion houses in the early 90's to multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar brands. Ford stepped out with the label bearing his name, creating his chic, romantic, evocative fragrances, menswear, beauty, eyewear, and accessories. Jay Z, one of the biggest names in music, even wrote a song about him.

Born in Austin Texas, on August 27, 1961, Ford grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Ford and his family moved to Santa Fe, N.M., where at the age of 16, he graduated high school. Ford pursed his higher education at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Mass., but quickly dropped out. In 1979, the 17-year-old Ford moved to New York City to study art history at New York University. Ford soon became a regular denizen of the New York club scene, most notably at Studio 54. But the distractions of Ford’s social life conflicted with his studies, and he dropped out of NYU. Ford then moved to Los Angles to pursue a career in modeling and acting. Although Ford managed to begin a relatively successful career as a commercial actor, he heard the siren call of the Big Apple and moved back East. Ford enrolled in the prestigious Parsons The New School of Design to study architecture and, while there, transferred to Parsons Paris campus. In his final year at Parsons, Ford switch to the fashion department — a move that was to shape the rest of his career.

In 1985, after graduating from Parsons, Ford launched his own personal campaign to land a job with sportswear designer Cathy Hardwick. Ford called her office every morning from the lobby for an entire month. After several calls, Hardwick answered the phone herself to set up a meeting. The charming, charismatic Ford beguiled Hardwick, who offered him a job as her design assistant. Two years later, Ford moved to Perry Ellis as a design assistant, designing jeans.

With his love and appreciation for European cuts and fabrics, Ford applied for a lead design position at Gucci. At the time, the Gucci house was struggling to capture consumers. Gucci’s creative director, Dawn Mello, was desperately hoping to bring someone aboard to help revamp the designs and image of the luxury brand. Mello hired Ford as Gucci’s women’s wear designer. Ford then moved to Milan — and started working his magic. Calling upon his experiences at Studio 54 as inspiration, Ford traded in the then-minimalist, esoteric designs of Gucci for lush, sensual, provocative looks, that gained worldwide attention and acclaim. Under his guidance, the Gucci empire expanded into evening wear, men's and women's sportswear, eyewear, and home furnishings. Within a decade, Ford turned the Gucci brand to a $10 billion business. He also assisted in the brand’s acquisition of the French brand Yves Saint Laurent.

Ford indeed earned fortune and fame for of all his efforts for Gucci and its brands, but not without setbacks and tribulations. Ford endured a long-standing rivalry with Maurizio Gucci, son of Gucci’s founder and its chairman. Moreover, Dawn Mello remained the public face of Gucci, and Ford often did not receive credit for his creative ideas and decisions. In 2004, Ford took the next big step and left the Gucci empire he helped build. Numerous disagreements with majority shareholders prompted Ford to start his own clothing line, Tom Ford. A year later, he opened his first store on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Ford’s collections have made him a household name synonymous with masculinity, sensuality, and style. His menswear pieces are among the most sought-after items each collection. Tom Ford suits and eveningwear garments are often found on numerous A-list celebrities, and on countless red carpets. He has formulated several of the world’s best-selling fragrances. Ford recently shocked the beauty industry by launching his Tom Ford for Men Skincare and Grooming products, consisting of six multifunctional products designed for men, including bronzer and concealer — items not usually found in men’s grooming kits.

Ford is living proof that there is no set formula to finding success. True leaders make their own path, rather than follow others. Ford’s path recently led him to yet another eminently successful venture — in April 2014 he married Richard Buckley, his partner of 27 years. What good fortunes are ahead for this iconic style icon? Only time will tell.

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