Tom Ford in person: Go Beta First, New York

Slippers

On my last trip to New York, I finally managed to see the new Tom Ford flagship store in person. After all of the hubbub about its "Hermes and Oprah" similarities, I wanted to judge for myself. Was Cathy Horyn right in criticising the high price-points as being out of reach even for the most discerning male customers? Was Horacio Silva on the mark for panning the store for its overly-exclusive environment?

I’m afraid the answer is yes. In spades.

For all of the talk about the luxurious feel of the store, I have to say it all felt quite ordinary to me. That is to say, it didn’t feel different from most of the other masses of luxury stores that are out there. The grey colour palette and silver store fittings reminded me a bit of the old Gucci store formats (that are now being phased out). Sure, the furniture and materials, based on Ford’s London home, were sumptuous and very tasteful. However, the store lacked that special something that makes truly unique retail formats stand out. When you walk into a Chanel store – any Chanel store -  you feel like you have truly entered the world of Chanel and all that it stands for. When you walk into Abercrombie & Fitch, there is a certain electricity in how the product and store environment go hand-in-hand to speak about the brand. 

This, the Tom Ford store did not have. Not yet, at least. For now, customers need to get through glass cabinets that hold many of the clothes more like museum pieces, than sumptuous articles of clothing. How is a customer going to feel the need to buy a beautiful cashmere sweater if he can’t even touch it before asking someone’s permission? This is akin to taking a child to a petting zoo and saying, "no petting allowed, unless you ask me first. "

Image302_2 The most disappointing thing for me is that Mr. Ford has completely misjudged the consumer he is going after. After having nailed it at Gucci, he has completely missed the mark here. Ford has insulted the intelligence of the customer by assuming he will pay the steep prices just because of all the frills. Frills or no frills, most luxury customers are very discerning about the product, and by making it so hard to form a judgment, the customer is forced to judge based on the store itself, not the product. The Gucci formula of glamour and sex won’t work when you are asking a man to spend $5000+ on a suit. It’s no wonder the store was completely empty.

My expections for this store were very high, even with the unfavourable media coverage that I had seen in advance. Mostly, this is because Tom Ford has been selling the idea of his eponymous brand to us for the past year and half.  It is also because I respect the man a great deal for his creativity, business acumen and personal style. So, you can say I felt rather disappointed than critical.

Many industry observers have been waiting with baited breath to see what he would come up with. Maybe this is another lesson learned for Mr. Ford, the erstwhile master of PR and spin. Be careful what you say (and how long you say it for, and how often you say it) about a big project in advance of its launch. You might just be setting yourself up for a different kind of high-profile PR than you had expected: the negative kind. Perhaps it would have been better for Mr. Ford to take a listen from the Internet world and go beta first, testing out the concept and honing it carefully before making the big splash.

© 2007 Copyright Imran Amed – The Business of Fashion.