Tom Ford on Melania Trump (and the future of American fashion)

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On Tuesday, designer and filmmaker Tom Ford was the second most trending topic on Twitter for a reason that had nothing to do with the news he was doing.

He was fashionable because of a quote attributed to him that Melania Trump was a “glorified escort” and that he refused to dress her. His office, however, was quick to point out that he never said such a thing. On the contrary, in a 2016 interview on “The View”, he said that (at some pre-campaign point) he had been approached to dress Mrs. Trump, but he refused because she was “not really his image” and in addition, he believed that the first lady should wear American and affordable clothes – and her clothes were neither of those things.

It doesn’t matter so much because it’s yet another example of the nefarious way fake news spreads on the internet (although that’s it), but because on Tuesday Mr Ford also became president. of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the industry lobby group. , watchdog and sometimes scapegoat.

This makes him the effective face of the industry. And that means what he says, or what he is said to have said, and what he stands for, will become even heavier, because he no longer speaks just for himself, but for American fashion. . He succeeds Diane von Furstenberg, who held the position for 13 years, making her the second-longest-serving leader in the band’s history (her predecessor, Stan Herman, lasted 16 years).

“People keep saying to me, ‘Why did you agree to do this? ‘” Mr. Ford said on a call from Los Angeles, where he is based. “the answer is: out of a sense of duty, I guess. At some point in your life you have learned enough and done enough, you should share what you know. I think that feeling of giving back is very American. It’s certainly much less of a European thing. I think I can do a good job and I think I have a vision for it, so why not add it to my to-do list? »

It’s an interesting time to add the CFDA to a to-do list that includes womenswear, menswear, beauty, accessories, and movies. The lack of racial diversity in many fashion brands is still an issue; Calvin Klein, once an American-style tentpole, just announced it was closing its designer-led Collection line; there’s a general sense of identity crisis at New York Fashion Week as young designers jump ship for other cities or decide to skip seasons; and everyone is worried about the future of department stores, once the country’s style conduits. Not to mention the fact that fashion still has a somewhat fractured relationship with the current presidential administration.

“Diane came up to me, then Anna came up to me, then Steven came up to me, then Diane came up to me, then Anna came up to me, then Steven came up to me. approached me,” Mr. Ford said, referring to Ms. von Furstenberg; Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast; and Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA.

“I was wooed for a while,” Mr Ford said. The hard sell reflects both the seriousness of the work and the complications of taking it on at the time. They put a heavier burden on what could be a ceremonial position, and mean it will be up to Mr. Ford to articulate some sort of way forward for the industry and the CFDA’s 495 members.

As to what exactly that path might be, however, he declined to go into specifics until his tenure officially begins in June, after the organization’s annual fashion awards (nominations come to be published and the fact that Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak is in the running for womenswear designer of the year, after winning emerging designer last year, reflects the general confusion) . What Mr Ford would say is that he felt his international journey – his years as creative director of Gucci and later Yves Saint Laurent from 1990 to 2004, his time based in London with his own brand from 2010 to 2016 – would inform his message.

“I think the key to the future of American fashion is to become more international and more global,” Ford said. “Having recently returned to America, one of the things that struck me the most about all industries and American life was how isolated America was and how inward-looking it was. I’ve always thought of myself as an international designer, designing for a global market, and I think American fashion needs to think that way. Even if you’ve just started a business, you immediately need to think about what’s going to help you be marketable globally, not just in America.

And even more than that – not just in New York. Although the CFDA is based in Manhattan, Mr. Ford, who has been a member since 2000 and has won seven CFDA awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, has no plans to move, nor to be in the city more than “four or five times” a year he is currently visiting. Nor does he intend to become an example of a designer who re-commits to New York Fashion Week for the long haul.

“I have a global business and sometimes I need to show in another country,” he said (he has shown in London and Los Angeles). “Sometimes I have to show in Asia; I may need to show in Europe. I was very honest and upfront about it. But I think the CFDA is an American thing and not so much a New York thing.

“You could say that New York is the center of a certain America, and I realize that part of the CFDA organizes and – I don’t mean monitors – New York Fashion Week. But it also encourages designers Americans to be successful and part of that is accepting the fact that we live in a big world,” he said.

It’s an interesting statement, and one that borders on politics at a time when the fight for a border wall has been one of the defining discussions of the year. Under Ms. von Furstenberg’s leadership, the CFDA lobbied for greater intellectual property protection for creators, embarked on a health model initiative, upped the volume of the conversation about diversity and l inclusion and brought new American designers to Paris for a fashion week showcase. Now it’s up to Mr. Ford to pick his problems and decide how to run his new cast.

“I’m pretty strong-willed,” he said.

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