LONDON, United Kingdom — Ever since his extravagant blow-out show last February, which marked the brand’s return to the catwalk, Tom Ford seems to have entered into a reactive meta-dialogue with his critics. Eschewing the fat embroidery and patterns of then for the butter soft leathers and sculpted lattices of Spring, he went down an even more reductive path this Autumn: cue in an austere black velvet dress, followed by a pitch-black repertoire of long, severe lines. It was a jolt for the audience, by this point distractedly arranged atop the muted grey sofas of le cinéma du Ford, who have come to expect a certain set of codes from him: namely, the intense erotic edge and high power of his unashamedly immoderate brand of luxury.
Instead, Ford had loosened his grip on women’s bodies and gave them organic, almost primitively simple silhouettes. Perhaps that came from the fact that at the crux of the collection were Ford’s own roots: the Swinging decade at whose threshold he was born (1961) and his native Santa Fe, New Mexico. There was a deliberate nod to the dress of Native American women (as well as to the singular style of another New Mexico native, the ‘mother of American Modernism’, artist Georgia O’Keeffe) in the velvet tunics, long prairie gowns in red and black and the poncho Stella Tenant fiercely swirled in for the finale. These influences melded with more traditionally Fordian signifiers, like the lace-up neckline reminiscent of his iconic safari suit for YSL (this time in a red crocodile incarnation) and the sexy skirt suits with a sportier edge and complete with balaclavas and pin-heeled cowgirl boots.
And then, just as this new narrative was beginning to take shape, the designer shattered it with a defiantly auteurist gesture in the shape of two sequinned minidress versions of the football jersey Jay Z wears when performing his “Tom Ford” song. While the designer’s acknowledgment of the accolade was largely met with a smile – what a deliciously meta-theatrical quip!– it once again comes to show that Ford is no naïf regarding the cultural currency of his name. He knows what is expected of him – by the press, by buyers, by his international client base – and he has found a way to make collections that fill the needs and stoke the desires of all of them. Hence the sequins, the leopard skins and the gorgeous, arrogant furs that found their way in Ford’s ‘minimalist’ collection. Besides the few leopard-on-leather looks that evoked the wrong side of Eastern European glamour, it added up to a beautifully credible effort that at the end of the day follows no other rules but Ford’s. For despite his consistently contrarian moves, Ford showed that he can listen and he can respond, with scintillating wit and conviction.
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