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Tom Ford focuses
on menswear, fashion staples

Tom Ford focuses
on menswear, fashion staples

Tom Ford is back in the fashion business, attempting to alter--if not correct--a phenomenon he helped create.

He wants both the industry and consumers to end the hunt for the next big thing in favor of a long-term commitment to personal style. He wants people to appreciate the details in the things they buy and can keep for years to come.

''It's a reaction to our world, where everything is so impersonal and things are less and less about quality, less and less about nuance--less and less about people. Maybe I'm in the early stages of longing for the generation before,'' says Ford.

Ford this week opens a very Saville Row-inspired menswear store on Madison Avenue, a departure from the super-sexy, high-concept runway shows that were his trademark as design chief at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

He's selling suits and tuxedos, cap-toe shoes and velvet slippers, tennis shorts and, in the fall, shooting clothes, along with walking sticks and cuff links.

The shop is quiet, elegant, and homey--or at least homey for a cool character like Ford. With abstract art by Lucio Fontana and a crocodile-inspired chair--both from his own home--along with beaver rugs and a slate-gray palette, Ford attempts to recreate the mood of a 1930s men's club. There are butlers to cater to clients' whims, from pouring a drink at the bar to fetching lunch from a nearby restaurant.

All this luxury doesn't come cheap, of course. But Ford says at least you'll know that your $1,000 shoes and $3,200-plus suits (that's for the ready-to-wear; made-to-measure starts at $5,000) were made with loving hands and the finest quality.

The personal touches include hand-woven socks with the wearer's initials, shirt boxes with customers' names written in calligraphy, and a lot of choices--there are 340 shirt colors in 35 fabrics that can be matched with one of seven collars and one of three cuffs.

The only unisex items can be found in the perfumery, which right now has 12 scents ranging from black violet to Tuscan leather, and the store will also mix custom blends.

Three years ago Ford, who is the designer equivalent of a rock star, very publicly fled the fashion scene in favor of Hollywood. He had several scripts in the works and he says on Monday that at least one film project was ready to go, though he refused to give any details.

But, he explained, he genuinely missed fashion.

''I hated not creating something. I really missed what I was doing,'' he says.

Why menswear? Ford, wearing a black three-piece suit that's a slightly looser fit than we saw in his sleek Gucci days, says he had trouble finding things for his own wardrobe. He even called himself his muse.

Ford, 45, talks vaguely about future stores in London, Milan, and Dubai, but he wouldn't reveal any plans during his preview Monday other than the company was on a path of ''accelerated development.''

Fashion experts say they suspect his New York store will succeed.

''When you get to clothes at that price point, you want something that's unique to you and so special,'' says Stephen Watson, fashion director at Men's Vogue. ''You want something that no one else will have.''

He thinks Ford made a wise choice in making the store full-service plus some. ''Everybody wants to look good, but I think simplifying and demystifying the process attracts customers,'' he says.

It also doesn't hurt that Ford doesn't intend to drastically change styles from season to season, if at all. These are investment pieces.

Things don't move very quickly in the men's market, says Brian Boye, fashion director at Men's Health. Unlike women, who have celebrities, designers, and reality-show advisers telling them what's hip and cool every few months, Boye says men get only a subtle message from pop culture.

''Between Tom Ford and male celebrities who are influencers, there is a trickle-down effect. The industry gets excited and buys into our aesthetic and we get used to seeing it, and over time it's what becomes the norm.''

He uses Ford's Gucci suits from the early 2000s as the example: They were sharper, more body-conscious, and with a peak lapel that had been out of favor for years. Six years later, it's the silhouette that Banana Republic and H&M are selling.

''Guys don't move on trends like women do,'' Boye says. However, he added, he thinks Ford will move the meter a little bit.

''He's elusive, handsome, provocative, controversial. Anyone or anything who can generate that buzz and excitement is good for fashion,'' Boye says. (AP)

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Matthew Van Atta