Next to the James Bond franchise, menswear designer Tom Ford has been the most influential promoter of classic formal wear in the new millennium.
Ford began his career in 1986 and just four years later joined the faltering luxury goods company Gucci which was then on the verge of bankruptcy. His early success in the fashion house’s womenswear line led to his involvement in menswear, fragrances, advertising, and even store design. The result was a complete reinvigoration of the brand and promotion to the role of creative director in 1994. Ford also became the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent when Gucci acquired the rival brand in 1999. Like his work at Gucci, Ford was able to catapult the classic fashion house back into the mainstream and earned numerous Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in the process. By the time he left Gucci Group in 2004 the company was valued at $10 billion.
Ford’s next venture was to launch his own line of menswear, eyewear, and accessories in 2006, the same year that the blockbuster James Bond reboot Casino Royale breathed new life into 007 franchise. The two institutions would overlap when the wunderkind designer was selected to outfit the maverick Bond in the 2008 follow-up, Quantum of Solace. The collaboration was a perfect match for Ford’s penchant for skillfully balancing the trim tailored fit of the 2000s with the elegant detailing of traditional menswear. This was particularly true for the film’s featured tuxedo which was an homage to the original Bond dinner suit from 1962’s Dr. No, right down to the midnight-blue hue and turnback cuffs.
The success of Quantum and the appearance of Daniel Craig in its featured tuxedo at the 2009 Academy Awards soon afterwards had an immediate impact on men’s formal wear. By the following year the ubiquitous millennial interpretation of the tuxedo as glorified business suit was being seriously outclassed by Ford’s classic styling on red carpets everywhere; the mundaneness of notched lapels, two-button jackets, long ties, and bared shirt waists became glaringly obvious in comparison to Ford’s bold shawl and peaked lapels, especially when paired with his cummerbunds and old-school evening waistcoats. At the same time, midnight blue returned from decades of obscurity to once again take the spotlight as a stylish alternative in both designer labels and mass-produced models.
Those of us who value classic black tie styling owe a great debt to Mr. Ford for his role in promoting it to a whole new generation.