Can Tom Ford survive without Tom Ford?

    Following Tom Ford’s sale to Estée Lauder and Ford’s exit from the label this year, Peter Hawkings makes his debut as the new creative director.
    Following Tom Ford’s sale to Estée Lauder and Ford’s exit from the label this year, Peter Hawkings makes his debut as the new creative director. Photo: Instagram
      Published   in Fashion

    When Tom Ford took over as creative director of Gucci in 1994, the Texas-born designer ushered in a new era of sultry glamour for the flailing Italian brand.

    Peter Hawkings, who was announced as creative director of Tom Ford’s namesake label this year, does not have quite such a momentous task on his hand as he showcases his debut collection this season.

    But he still has plenty of eyes eager to see how he makes his mark on the brand as shows his Spring/Summer 2024 collection for Tom Ford in Milan today.

    Founded in 2004 and acquired by Estée Lauder for 2.8 billion in late 2022, the Tom Ford label hasn’t fallen into familiar or financial straits the way did Gucci did in the early ’90s. But Hawkings’ appointment is still a crucial tipping point for the Tom Ford label, and today’s show marks the first chance to demonstrate whether or not the brand can survive — and evolve — without its founder at the helm.

    Hawkings, a Central Saint Martins graduate who worked under Ford at Gucci and then his namesake label for decades, told Vogue (in his first big interview no less) that the collection was inspired in part by Donayle Luna.

    The pioneering Black supermodel dominated runways and magazine covers in the ’60s and ’70s and is currently the subject of an HBO documentary. And the collection calls to mind much of the Studio 54 sensuality (with a touch of sleaze) that Ford remains known for.

    Models wore flouncy blouses unbuttoned all to their navel, while full-length, long-sleeved gowns revealed daring back cutouts. (According to Style Not Com’s Beka Gvishiani, Ford himself was not in attendance.)

    In a nod to today’s gender-bending fashion standards, Hawkings mixed men’s and womenswear on the runway, with androgynous looks that suit the tailored but sensual Ford aesthetic.

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    Velvet suits in pinks and blues called to mind Ford’s famed red velvet suit for Gucci, worn by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996 and revived by Alessandro Michele in 2021. While Hawkings was largely faithful to the style of his longtime boss, he introduced a touch of himself into the show: like Hawkings himself, all the models wore sunglasses inside.

    The Tom Ford clothing is perhaps in need of more forward-thinking, however. While the Tom Ford beauty brand, which was already under the ownership of Estée Lauder prior to the sale of the apparel line, has produced many best-selling fragrances in the past few years like Lost Cherry and Bitter Peach, the apparel brand has been in greatest hits mode as of late.

    When Ford himself announced his surprise exit from the brand this spring, he did so with a collection of recreations of his favorite archival looks. Hawkings’ Tom Ford too looks to be a faithful recreation of Ford’s aesthetic at both Gucci and his namesake label, with slinky jersey dresses and python leather skirt suits. Weibo user Manicbee called many of the looks "direct replicas of Tom Ford’s 90s and 2000s creations." As Weibo user MAGTEA wrote on a post recapping the show from user Blucoke., "Tom Ford is TOM FORD, but Peter Hawkings is Frida Giannini." Frida Giannini, who served as Gucci's creative director prior to Alessandro Michele was largely seen as not advancing the brand the way her successor did.

    In less than 24 hours, Gucci’s newest creative director Sabato de Sarno will show his debut collection for the label in Milan as well. Creative directors at Gucci have largely added their own particular spin to the brand during their tenures, with most recently Alessandro Michele’s quirky geek chic a clear evolution from Ford’s new millennium disco-inspired sleaze.

    Hawkings is clearly adept at such style after years as Ford’s right-hand man, but he has yet to show exactly who he is as a designer.

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