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What Happened: The fashion world cheered when Tom Ford returned to fashion with the launch of his namesake label in 2010. Now, the industry is contending with his sudden departure: On Wednesday, the designer released a surprise “final collection” for the Tom Ford brand, less than six months after he sold the apparel line to beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder for $2.8 billion in late 2022.
Ford first became a household name when he was named creative director of Gucci in 1994, a position he left a decade later. His career has taken various turns since; he made himself an acclaimed filmmaker when he directed A Single Man starring Colin Firth in 2009, before returning to fashion the following year. But regardless of what happens to his fashion line, the Estée Lauder acquisition indicates that Ford’s legacy will live on in another industry: beauty.
The Jing Take: Tom Ford showcased the power a creative director can lend to a struggling fashion label when he took the helm of Gucci. His sleek, body-conscious, and at times androgynous designs not only revived the brand but remain influential today. Bella Hadid wore a white gown from his Fall 1996 collection at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, while then-creative director Alessandro Michele revived a red velvet suit from the same collection in 2021.
But Ford also showed a prescient eye for the power of beauty when he created Tom Ford Beauty with Estée Lauder in 2006. The line began with just one fragrance, Black Orchid, but has become a powerhouse at the beauty conglomerate that also owns the likes of Bobbi Brown and Clinique. The line has since expanded to encompass makeup, and still produces blockbuster fragrances like 2018’s “Fucking Fabulous” and “Lost Cherry.”
More than a decade later, luxury fashion lines have increasingly caught up to Ford’s understanding of the potential of fragrance and beauty. In 2019, Ford’s former home Gucci revived its beauty collection, which is licensed by Coty. Off-White entered the beauty fray with a fragrance and cosmetics line in 2022, while Kering, which owns Gucci’s apparel line, launched a new in-house Kering Beauté division led by former Estée executive Rafaella Cornaggia in 2023.
Tom Ford Beauty has frequently expanded its footprint in the Chinese market, which has shown an appetite for luxury fragrances. In 2020, the brand opened its largest freestanding store in the world in 2020 in Guangzhou, China and in 2022 announced actor Bai Jingting as fragrance ambassador in China. Just last month, Chinese actress Shu Qi was named Tom Ford Beauty’s attaché for China.
As the conglomerate doesn’t own any apparel lines, the sale of Tom Ford’s clothing arm to Estée Lauder last year raised some eyebrows about the status of Tom Ford as a fashion brand. Ford’s quick departure without a named successor indicates the conglomerate may see the future of the brand in exclusively or primarily beauty rather than fashion.
But Ford has faced more than just business shake ups in recent years. The sale of Ford’s apparel line to Estée Lauder and his sudden departure followed a great personal tragedy in the designer’s life: In 2021, his husband, the fashion editor Richard Buckley, passed away at the age of 72. Ford has since spoken about the challenges he faces with the loss of his partner of 35 years, with whom he shared a son.
The fashion world will undoubtedly miss his contributions, but with his varied creative trajectory, Ford may well have plenty of surprises left ahead.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.