Bringing glamour to the runway and screen

Designer and film-maker Tom Ford's aesthetic has matured and is less tied to the ebb and flow of fashion's trends

Tom Ford received the Grand Jury Prize for his movie Nocturnal Animals at the 73rd Venice Film Festival last Saturday.
Tom Ford received the Grand Jury Prize for his movie Nocturnal Animals at the 73rd Venice Film Festival last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • In popular culture's intersection of fashion and cinema stands Tom Ford, designer and film-maker.

He weaves narratives with colour and shape, with a gesture and a stroll, and in sleek surface images that speak to deeper concerns and presumptions about both women and men.

Ford presented his clothing collection last Wednesday evening, the day before Fashion Week officially began here. Last Thursday, he screened his most recent movie, Nocturnal Animals. It is impossible to consider one without contemplating the other - together they say so much about his aesthetic eye and the allure of shiny, blinding gloss.

Ford debuted his women's collection here six years ago with a small show in his Madison Avenue boutique. His runway was filled with his favourite models and celebrity friends such as Beyonce, Rita Wilson and Julianne Moore. He narrated his own show with cheeky commentary and precise details about the clothes. And he refused to release photographs in an attempt to preserve an element of anticipation and to slow down fashion's frantic pace. He underscored the value of desire.

After presenting subsequent collections in London and Los Angeles, he returned to New York and the Seagram Building last week to show his Fall 2016 collection. Yes, fall, while most of his peers are showing their spring collections. Ford has fully embraced the new philosophy of see-now-buy-now. No one has to wait six months for these garments. The clothes that he put on the runway are available online and in stores.

He has slowed his little segment of the fashion cycle so it is now in sync with what customers - at least supremely wealthy ones - might desire right now. And the clothes that he presented - slim pencil skirts with harness-style belts, colour-blocked furs, slinky blouses with delicate pintucks, belted jackets, lavishly sequinned shirt dresses and sophisticated gowns covered in paillettes - were grownup and sexy.

They exist apart from the culture's current affection for athleisure wear and the idea that dressing up is a bothersome chore. There were no pyjamas posing as suits. Yes, eating a big meal while wearing one of those neatly belted jackets might leave you feeling uncomfortably trussed - so put down the fork sooner rather than later. Ford admires a certain degree of control, if not willpower.

But these are not clothes exclusively for reed-thin 20somethings. In fact, they looked their best on models Carolyn Murphy and Amber Valletta, both of whom are in their 40s and have at least a hint of curves. These garments need to be worn with a sophisticated, worldly swagger, because without that authority they are too audacious, too extravagant, too much. They need a woman - not a girl - to tame them.

Ford understands the value of lighting, set decoration and costuming. He presented his collection in a warmly lit room that wrapped his audience in a flattering glow and made his models look like 8-by-10 Hollywood glossies come to life. They walked along an elevated runway lined with round tables decorated with vases of orchids, white votives and the remains of a dinner that included salmon and caviar, halibut and champagne.

The show was preceded by cocktails and ended with a performance by singer Leon Bridges. There was a red carpet and live streaming and a room full of actors and athletes including Moore, Tom Hanks, Jon Hamm, Uma Thurman and Russell Westbrook - all wearing ensembles by Ford. It was a perfectly and beautifully cast evening.

In his years since leaving Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, where he served as creative director, Ford's aesthetic has become more personal and independent and less tied to the ebb and flow of fashion's trends. In a way, he has sketched his own world of glamour, elegance and sex appeal: Enter it, or don't. It stands on its own - sure, enticing and a bit daunting.

He also branched out into film, making his directorial debut in 2009 with the Oscar-nominated A Single Man. His ability to create a world comes through in his latest film, too, which he screened last Thursday at SoHo House.

In Nocturnal Animals, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, Ford gives his audience multiple realities that overlap and connect - the stark brutality of a West Texas landscape, the glossy loneliness of Los Angeles, a brief glimpse of the snowy romance of New York. Each is depicted with engrossing beauty and detail. Even ugliness and horror are shown with a mesmerising sensuality.

In the noirish film, with its flashes of droll humour, he explores guilt and revenge, the emptiness of materialism and what it means to doubt one's creative impulses. He highlights a Los Angeles art world of self-conscious consumption, of gallerists so determined to live on the cutting edge that they tumble into absurdity and caricature.

Fashion - like music, sports and politics - can suffer from some of the same dangers of self-absorption as the art world. There are countless times when fashion skids into ridiculousness as it goes barrelling towards the newest thing in hipster cool or misguided intellectualism.

Ford once pushed boundary after boundary in fashion, but as his aesthetic has evolved and matured, he no longer dances on the industry's edge. Another generation of designers is experimenting with gender and trying to shock the system. Other designers are letting loose with a primal yell. Living so breathlessly can give a designer an exciting rush of adrenaline, but being way out there on the ledge can be lonely and exhausting. And not necessarily fulfilling.

On the runway and onscreen, Ford is telling us stories. It's worthwhile to pause and listen.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'Bringing glamour to the runway and screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe