Tom Ford wants American designers to be more international, in new role as CFDA chairperson

The designer succeeded Diane von Furstenberg as head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America on March 19

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06:  Designer Tom Ford walks the runway at the conclusion of his Tom Ford Mens FW18 Collection at Park Avenue Armory on February 6, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)
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Tom Ford is oft credited with changing the face of American fashion with his glamorous, sensual aesthetic. The designer has raised the style stakes by incorporating influences from music, sport and film into his collections and runways.

His latest autumn / winter 2019 collection, which opened New York Fashion Week this year, for instance, was all about tightly cinched waists, cropped trousers and jaunty hats. Gigi Hadid walked the runway in a red pants suit, while elsewhere a pair of silk scarlet trousers, a rich velvet blazer and a currant-coloured turtleneck sealed the tonal effect.

Model Gigi Hadid presents a creation from the Tom Ford collection during New York Fashion Week in New York, February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Gigi Hadid for Tom Ford at NYFW. Reuters 

Now the designer will head the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In the global apparel and accessories world, few organisations command the same respect as the CFDA, an entity that was founded in the 1930s. It was the brainchild of Eleanor Lambert, an outspoken and prominent publicist in American fashion and interior design, who strove to bring home-grown designers to the attention of domestic and international audiences.

It's that latter customer base that chairman Ford aims to target and appease. Soon after his appointment, the designer told Business of Fashion: "Coming back from Europe, what's stunning to me was the isolation I feel here. I feel that America is one of the most isolated countries in the world. We're very inward looking. What American fashion needs to become in order to be more relevant in the world is to think of itself as not just American but as international."

Diane von Furstenberg, who was chairperson for 13 years, expressed her delight at Ford's appointment, saying that it's great because he's a designer who's "a global person [who has helped build] large companies".

Ford's fashion trajectory

The Texas-born, Los Angles-based designer, 57, started off as an intern in Chloe's press office, which sparked his in interest in fashion. He assisted American designer Cathy Hardwick for two years, and moved to Perry Ellis in 1988, under Marc Jacobs. There he realised that if he were to seal his reputation as a designer, he would have to leave the United States, which he has described as an "inhibiting culture" where "it's looked down upon to be too stylish".

Accordingly, Ford moved to Milan and joined Gucci as its women's ready-to-wear designer, moving on to menswear and shoes soon after. It was here that Ford's talent truly shone, and he became the house's design director in 1992 and creative director in 1994. Between 1995 and 1996, sales at Gucci increased by 90 per cent. Ford was then named creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, when it became part of the Gucci Group (now Kering).

In 2006 he launched his eponymous company, for "cultured, well-travelled" men and "strong, intelligent" women. He has since dressed Beyonce, Will Smith, High Jackman, Daniel Craig, Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus and Michelle Obama. Clothes aside, Ford is known for his stylish sunglasses and coveted fragrances.

The rumour that rained on Ford's parade 

Hours after he was made CFDA chairman, Ford found himself putting to bed rumours that he had once called First Lady Melania Trump a "glorified escort" (he hadn't). The fake quote went viral on Twitter, and has since been deleted, and alluded to the fact that Ford refused to dress her (he had).

The story goes that Ford was approached to dress Melania before Donald Trump was elected president, but refused – something he admitted to in a 2016 episode of The View.

While he didn't give a reason for shying away before Melania became first lady, Ford added that he would not dress her – or his candidate of choice, Hilary Clinton – even now, because his clothes aren't a good fit or relatable to the image public servants want to channel; they are, he noted, too expensive and glamorous. About dressing Michelle Obama, he said that was a one-off when she was in London for a white-tie dinner party with the Queen.

Ford said yesterday that he "never, never, never" said anything derogatory about Melania.