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Best of the Best 2008: Menswear: Tom Ford

William Kissel

When Tom Ford returned to fashion last year after a three-year hiatus, he did so in a way that was completely unexpected to those who had followed his 14-year career at Gucci. Rather than spotlight the same skinny suits and shiny, sex-charged sportswear that made him a fashion icon throughout the 1990s, Ford revisited menswear from a more distant and more illustrious past.

To fill a niche between the classic handmade suits of London’s Savile Row and the trim-fitting, lightweight modern alternatives being served up by Italian suitmakers, Ford created a line of clothing that flawlessly melds the two. For instance, his traditional gray flannel suits have the same sharp, roped shoulders and hourglass-fitted waists of those designed for aristocrats and movie actors in the 1940s. And less obviously, Ford’s suits are constructed from fine wool or cashmere blends that are softer, lighter, and more comfortable to wear.

At the same time, Ford added a few modern flourishes to his own brand of bygone suitmaking. Buttons, for example, are knotted by hand and fit into hand-sewn buttonholes. For the designer’s own purely artistic reasons, pocket flaps are slightly larger, and there are five working buttonholes on his jackets’ cuffs, rather than the traditional four. Most jackets feature an extra interior pocket that is intended to hold a BlackBerry and constructed to preserve the shape of the suit. Moreover, Ford insisted upon putting more handwork in his off-the-rack and made-to-order suits (produced in collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna) than most Italian and British clothiers only claim to incorporate into similar made-to-measure products.

Some may question the widespread appeal of Ford’s newfound preference for vintage-looking three-piece and double-breasted suits made of fine English and Italian wools in recolored windowpane checks and classic Prince of Wales plaids. Ford reasons, and rightly so, that many men, whether they are CEOs or hedge-fund investors, possess conservative streaks and understand the importance of old-fashioned power dressing. In this regard, Ford’s fashion instincts are apparently dead-on, because his competitors both here and abroad will display the same traditional aesthetic in their own collections this fall.

In addition, Ford recognizes that the future of luxury menswear lies less in designer labels than in more customized niche brands. Thus he created an all-encompassing collection—cashmere suits, mink-lined and -trimmed topcoats, puffy leather outerwear, chunky hand-knit sweaters, textured leather luggage and briefcases, antique-finished footwear, small leather goods made from exotic skins, and other wardrobe staples. Ford sells the collection in his namesake ateliers around the world, as well as through Bergdorf Goodman and select Neiman Marcus stores.

Ford also understands the appeal of products that can be personalized. If classic three-piece suits or cap-toed cordovan footwear are not to your liking, then you can choose to customize the fabric and cut of suits, shirts, and smoking jackets and even have your initials embroidered on the toes of a pair of slippers or hammered in the metal nailheads on the soles of tasseled loafers.

Tom Ford, 212.359.0300, www.tomford.com

Image Information. Image #1: Two-piece, peak-lapel, large-check wool/silk suit, $4,300; matching wool/silk waistcoat, $1,100; small-check cotton shirt with high-stand cutaway collar and French cuffs, $560; silk jacquard tie, $215; silk pocket square, $130. Image #2: Tom Ford down-filled, quilted plonge leather blouson with knitted collar, $8,770; 3-gauge cashmere cable roll-neck sweater, $2,780; double-windowpane wool trousers with side-adjustable waist, $920; limited-edition Pavlos sunglasses, $2,400.

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Photo by Ted Morrison