Susannah Frankel: Ground-breaking visionary who brought revivalism up to date with a touch of sex

When Tom Ford took the helm at Gucci in the mid-1990s, he paved the way for his breed of designer to put down their pencils and pins and become hugely powerful marketeers, glamorous front-people and entrepreneurs.

It all began with the clothes, although there are those who might say that even in the early days it was more about styling.

Whichever way you choose to look at it, when a blonde and tousle-haired Kate Moss strode down the Gucci runway in March 1995, in the most perfectly cut, low-slung, blue velvet flared trousers and skinny shirt worn open to the navel, fashion mayhem ensued.

For the first time in years, Gucci - a dusty status label until then beleaguered by in-fighting and the threat of bankruptcy - made the news pages for sartorial reasons. Overnight, this was the designer tag to see and be seen in once more.

And it did not stop there. Having revisited the 1970s and made them hip again, Ford turned his attention to the 1980s, pencil skirts, metal spike heels and skinny leather jackets with power shoulders.

In Ford's hands this meant far more than pastiche. Instead, here was revivalism brought right up to date, and it went down a storm. From relative obscurity, Gucci was the name on the lips of anyone even remotely interested in fashion.

In Spice Girls - The Movie there was even a Gucci joke. "What shall I wear?" muses the young Victoria Beckham. "The little Gucci dress, the little Gucci dress or the little Gucci dress?"

It is no secret that Ford is a self-proclaimed control freak. Small wonder, then, that not content with coming up with the looks the world's most glamorous would kill for, he soon expanded his remit to include advertising campaigns (famously shot by Mario Testino) and shop fittings (famously pored over by the great man himself).

He told me: "I love talking about money. And I love thinking about how to make more of it. I don't understand people who say that business and creativity aren't compatible.

"You know, I started out in New York and, really, if the collection you designed didn't sell, you were fired the next day. What some fashion designers do is art and I have an incredible respect for it but I don't pretend to be anything other than a commercial designer and I am proud of that."

Purists might say Ford is not a designer in the true sense of the word: there is no agonising over the perfect sleeve or even getting up of a morning to doodle a dress.

He is visionary. From his own glossy aesthetic to his involvement with ground-breaking Gucci acquisitions including Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, this is a man who, for better or worse, has moved fashion forward. The gap he leaves behind will not be filled easily.

Comments