Fashion designer Tom Ford is gearing up for a lucrative exit

In 2016 Tom Ford told the Financial Times he was “determined” to turn his eponymous beauty, eyewear and fashion business into a $3 billion business by 2025.

It didn’t quite make the mark, but it came close. On Tuesday, Estée Lauder Companies announced that it has acquired the Tom Ford brand in a deal that values ​​it at $2.8 billion. The sale is set to make a 61-year-old Ford billionaire, who made a name for himself by turning near-bankrupt Gucci into a fashion powerhouse before launching his eponymous company in 2005.

It could also signal Ford’s exit from fashion. Zegna has agreed to expand its license for Tom Ford menswear to include womenswear, childrenswear and accessories, while Marcolin has “significantly expanded” its license for Tom Ford eyewear, said declared ELC. But Ford and Chairman Domenico De Sole only agreed to stay on until the end of next year.

“He wasn’t willing to get involved any longer than [the end of 2023]“says a source close to the negotiations. “He is no longer interested in fashion.”

Friends and former colleagues say Ford’s interests have long since shifted to Hollywood, where he directed two critically acclaimed films, A single man (2009) and nocturnal animals (2016). Based in Los Angeles since 2017, he stepped down as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in May. “There is not much grace in [fashion] more,” he told the FT in 2016. “It seems to have escalated to a point where there’s not a lot of respect for the designer. And it’s really sad.

“I feel like he’s ‘finished’ fashion. What else could he have to prove? says Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, who worked with him for 20 years. “It’s the sexy exit. He doesn’t cling. »

Ford’s stardom has long since transcended the island world of fashion. His impeccable grooming, daily routine and the uniform consisting of a white shirt, dark tie, gold pin and peak lapel suit are mesmerizing. Former employees describe him as “incredibly demanding”, “anal about everything”, “silly”, “funny”, “incredibly witty”, “kind” and “the hardest working human being in the world “. He engenders fierce loyalty, many of his associates have worked for him for decades.

“Tom’s huge success is because he was as fabulous and movie star-worthy as anything he ever designed,” Anna Wintour wrote in an email. “His own personal brand has always been as alluring as the houses he has worked for – although behind all the glamor is an incredibly hard-working man with a wicked sense of humor who is the most loyal and most loyal friend. kindly.”

“He’s motivated,” says Steven Kolb, who worked with him at the CFDA. “You can’t be Tom Ford and sell a company for $2.3 billion. [in upfront payments] if you are unsure of what you want in life.

Ford was born in Austin, Texas in 1961, the son of two real estate brokers. His interest in fashion was apparent at an early age: his peers teased him for showing up to school in a blazer, loafers and a briefcase. Ford moved to New York in 1979 to study art history at New York University, dropping out after a year to continue acting in Los Angeles. He returned to enroll in an interior design course but soon turned to fashion, working at sportswear brand Cathy Hardwick and then Perry Ellis under Marc Jacobs. In 1990 he decamped to Milan to design womenswear at Gucci and four years later was promoted to creative director.

His Fall/Winter 1995 collection heralded a glamorous new direction for a stuffy leather goods house mired in financial turmoil. Ford’s status as fashion’s “it” designer was cemented when Madonna appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards in one of the collection’s main looks.

By 2004, Gucci had become The Gucci Group and Ford presided over a $10 billion portfolio that included Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney. But contract negotiations with the group’s new owners, the Pinault family, soured and Ford left that year. The day he found out he and Gucci were going their separate ways, he took Hawkings to see ‘Love Actually’ in Leicester Square at lunchtime where ‘we cried our brains out’, she recalled.

“I had no voice in contemporary culture”, Ford reminded of this time. “I had such a powerful voice in the 90s and an identity that I worked really hard for. And all of a sudden I didn’t have that anymore, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do. .

He rents an office in Chelsea, where he plans a high-end beauty business that he launches with Estée Lauder to much fanfare in 2006. Their first fragrance, Black Orchid, becomes a best-seller; more followed, along with lipstick, priced at a then-impactful $48, and a full line of makeup.

“It’s phenomenally well done,” says Lana Todorovich, president of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. “It brought an idea of ​​glamor [that was missing in beauty].” Licensing for eyewear and menswear followed, and in September 2010 Ford returned to the runway to launch its first womenswear collection.

By the end of the decade, the Tom Ford label was aiming for annual sales of $1 billion. But the pandemic has taken its toll, forcing the company to lay off and lay off staff. ELC said it expects the brand to hit the $1 billion mark in net sales “over the next two years.”

The pandemic has also been difficult for Ford personally. Richard Buckley, her husband and partner of 35 years, died after a long illness in September 2021, aged 72. Together they had a son, Jack, via surrogate 10 years ago.

“The world knows that Tom is a perfectionist, that he has impeccable style, that he is a designer,” says Diane von Furstenberg. “He’s the Marlboro man of fashion. He’s also, on top of that, an extraordinarily kind human being.

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