Well, this rarely happens! Just when you think the fashion press has completely given up and finally become the toothless lap dogs of their advertisers, a critic will really let rip on one of the industry's holiest of sacred cows.
Thomas Carlyle Ford: maybe you've heard of him? He's the man whose creative turnaround of the Gucci fashion house, which was practically moribund in the early 1990s, made him basically a hero to the fashion press. Ford is known for later taking over Yves Saint Laurent, launching the career of supermodel Liya Kebede, and his longtime collaboration with stylist (and later Vogue Paris editor-in-chief) Carine Roitfeld. And also for designing those sexy velvet pants that everyone wanted to wear from 1996-1998. He made a movie, once, that was really good.
Tom Ford quit fashion for a while in the 2000s, and when he came back — under his own name, this time, not Yves Saint Laurent's, whom he famously never got along with — it was first just to sell us all $30,000 men's cufflinks. When he added a women's collection, everyone in fashion basically wet themselves in anticipation. But not every piece of silk charmeuse Ford touches can be magical and perfect, surely? The man who would ruche everything must have his off days — right? This is what critic Virginie Mouzat, the editor of the French newspaper Le Figaro's fashion magazine, made of Ford's most recent show:
Thus began the slowly unfolding nightmare. From the first model to appear, one was struck by what looked like an out-of-style Gucci collection from more than ten years ago. The fussy complications of the cuts (drawstrings, shirring, skirts that sat high up on the waist, leg-of-mutton sleeves), the messy hairstyle of a girl after happy hour, and the overdone makeup. The models were literally spackled with foundation, glossy lipstick in Ferrari red, and sooty black eyeshadow.
Mouzat says as the show went on the procession of loud colors and cuts "ratcheted up the retinal stress."
Overload is the key word of the collection. It was a walking catalog, shown on models
who were piled with accessories — some of which looked very familiar. The new watch? Think of the Cartier Tank. The high-heeled shoes with ankle ties? Ersatz Alaïa. The black leather shorts? Already seen on the runway at Céline, last year. As were the strappy sandals (which here were encrusted with rhinestones). The coat spiked with raffia flounces? A pale imitation of those Yves Saint Laurent made for spring-summer 1967.
Mouzat repeatedly called the collection "vulgar," and said that while a dash of vulgarity here and there could be forgivable, when it's done "without any apparent irony...in the most literal way," then vulgarity is a creative failure.
After this inventory for Kim Kardashian, Tom Ford appeared on the runway. He walked out. And stayed there, in the middle of the catwalk, wordlessly awaiting his standing ovation. Perhaps people would oblige out of anguish, or sympathy, or because all of this is supposed to be fun, after all. But everyone just looked at their feet. The music kept playing. Ford tried to speak over the noise, but it was impossible to hear. One could see this baby-faced man was seeking desperately to clear the air. He threw himself on his longtime companion, Richard Buckley, and they embraced. (Ralph Lauren always embraces his wife Ricky after his shows, but he goes backstage right after.) But still nobody stood. Then Tom Ford retreated towards Anna Wintour, on whom he inflicted a hug. So this Texas playboy, whose praises reporters sang in the Gucci years, has become the man for whom nobody stands. If not the man one actively flees. But of this whole vignette, as of the actual collection, you'll see nothing here. Tom Ford refuses to publish photographs of his shows.
It's weird to have to see a fashion review and have to imagine the clothes; it's so easy, these days, to be accustomed to seeing photos of the new collections on the wires almost as soon as the last model has walked, and online within the hour. (This post is illustrated with looks from Tom Ford's last seasonal collection.) It almost seems unreal to read about clothes in our pics or it didn't happen age. For what it's worth, the critic Lynn Yaeger reported a nearly identical account of the awkward moments of Ford's show, as the designer waited for a standing ovation that never came, in New York magazine. Aside from Yaeger and Mouzat, critical reaction to Ford's new clothes has been mostly positive — but that's normal for a designer of his stature and influence in an industry where most "criticism" is puffery (and in a culture where the notion of a fashion critic engaging thoughtfully with the product like a literary or a film critic might is seen as faintly silly, like fashion generally). We'll have to wait until Tom Ford feels good and ready to share his collection with the world to make up our own minds about what he's done for spring. And whether it owes too heavy a debt to Azzedine Alaïa.
Virginie Mouzat was, incidentally, one of the candidates mentioned as a potential successor to Carine Roitfeld at Vogue Paris. I'm starting to think things would have gotten really interesting had she been hired.
Mouzat article translated from French by me.
Tom Ford, Inclassable [Le Figaro]