nyfw fall 2019

Tom Ford Could Dress Congress Now

The famously provocative designer has chilled out.

Photo-Illustration: Imaxtree. Illustration: Lauren Tamaki
Photo-Illustration: Imaxtree. Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Tom Ford says the political climate has made him feel exhausted and upset, and for that reason he didn’t want his latest collection to appear aggressive. “And that’s strange, coming from me,” he said after his show last night, “because, I mean, I’ve done that.” Instead, he wanted his clothes to convey a sense of ease.

One can debate how “easy” wide, pleated trousers in jewel tones of satin are to wear, especially with stiletto peau de soie platforms and (fake) fur pimp hats. Ford showed a few pencil skirts, but he mostly struck to the pleated trousers, worn with slinky shirts and scarves or a classic pantsuit straight out of Saturday Night Fever in shimmering deep red velvet or black leather. There were also some fabulous sharp-shouldered coats — these felt more Cold War spy thriller — worn over black hoodies, and a finale of ultrasimple long dresses with a draped back or side, and a strand or two of cold chunky chain grazing bare flesh.

Photo: Randy Brooke/WireImage

But there was a sort of ease to be found in this collection’s underlying assumptions, and that’s what impressed me most about it. As Ford well knows, women have completely relaxed their views about day clothes; unless they work in a profession where there’s a business dress code, they’re in jeans or casual separates or workout clothes. “Everything in my collection is what one would wear to dinner or out to something,” Ford said.

Ford also knows that fashion designers don’t really enjoy the level of influence they had in the 1990s and early aughts, when a runway show could be truly shocking (John Galliano’s hobo show for Dior) and a style could ignite a massive trend, like the soft cargo pants that Nicolas Ghesquière offered at Balenciaga. Today, designers share the power with celebrities and a constant round-robin of influencers, all swimming in a barrage of images — a point that Balenciaga’s current director, Demna Gvasalia, made last fall when he turned his runway into a tunnel of exploding digital photographs.

Photo: JP YIM/Getty Images

Freed of that burden to provoke, Ford is comfortable in his own skin now. Virtually every look recalled his archive — the claret-red velvet pantsuit made famous by Gwyneth Paltrow, the slinky shirts, and the white keyhole gowns from Gucci that originally expressed Ford’s emotional link to the ’70s and Halston. Ford acknowledged the adaptations, saying that, as a designer, “You get to a certain age and you think, well, this is just my style, this is what I like.” So, I suspect, do customers, especially now that Ford has expanded his palette to reflect the city where he lives full-time, Los Angeles — more shades of red, pink and purple, along with black and browns.

Ford has eased up in one more way. It was only a few seasons ago that he showed thongs and glitzy microminis, a collection that was woefully out of tune with the times. Looking again this morning at the image of Gigi Hadid in a sharp red velvet jacket with trousers in a paler shade of red satin and a dark purple turtleneck, I could easily picture Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the outfit, or, for that matter, Nancy Pelosi. The look is chill and unassailably strong, and maybe for Ford represents a reckoning with reality.

Photo: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Tom Ford Could Dress Congress Now