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Tom Ford: Why Is Everyone Dressing Like the George W. Bush Era?

Channeling Big Bush Energy at the sexiest show in town!

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Sep 6 2018, 4:16pm

Photograph via Getty Images.

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I love Tom Ford. He is such a cowboy: strong, filled with swagger. Cinematic, and not just because he’s made (two very good) movies: everyone in Mr. Ford’s universe is sweaty in just the right way, like they’re about to do it, and I don’t mean farm work. He’s eloquent, but never loquacious, serving as a kind of full-toothed American foil to Lagerfeldian koans about how wearing sweatpants means you lost control of your entire life. You can almost hear the crack of the cowboy whip when he says things like, “I eat naked. I do everything completely naked.” Wa-pish!

And he casts his shows with the precision and ambition of a big Hollywood production: Wednesday night, for example, he had, among many, many others, Cardi B in a ruched black dress (perfect!), Russell Westbrook in black velvet (my heart!), Crazy Rich Asiansstar Henry Golding (heart throb du jour), and, in grey Windsor lapels, Tom Hanks—who is practically the president! No other New York fashion show pulls that kind of star wattage, and it’s a testament to Mr. Ford’s powers of branding and sensual finesse that he was one of the first to really see fashion as entertainment, as a pillar of popular culture rather than a niche hobby for a few vain artists.

Every season, Mr. Ford serves us a big juicy T-bone steak of an idea about what it means to look rich. Often, that means sexy—don’t forget that he introduced sex to Gucci and basically the world—but that might come off as funny in fashion’s current moment, when sexy dressing has more often meant the BDSM-inspired work of designers like Shayne Oliver and Gypsy Sport and the gentle weirdness of unisex brands like Eckhaus Latta, rather than shaving a logo in a model’s nether regions.

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Still, Mr. Ford is one of just a few designers who is really engaging with how women of certain means want to look, and he knows that means something else. Last season, it meant the go-go ’80s: sequin animal-print suits and mini-dresses in slime green and blood red, fuschia, and purple, plus puffer jackets and power-shoulders and metallic leggings.

This season, we fast-forwarded about two decades to an era many women have been tapping into lately: the Bush era. That means super-fitted, sculpted silhouettes with armor-like shoulders, and big bags held in the crooks of arms like shields against an ever-encroaching world. (Big Bush Energy?) The look was epitomized by the Roland Mouret Galaxy dress and women like Victoria Beckham and Naomi Watts, but practically every celebrity wore one between 2005 and 2008—it made you look great. The cool kids of fashion have largely moved away from these shapes—even Victoria Beckham, who practically launched her brand in the Galaxy Dress’s effigy, is making pajamas and handkerchief hem dresses and other much more forward and stylish clothing (and hopping around as a cool Goopy mom on the cover of British Vogue).

Photograph courtesy of Tom Ford.

And yet here they are on Meghan Markle and Melania Trump and Hope Hicks—three style icons for this echelon—and here they were on Mr. Ford’s runway Wednesday night: pencil skirts, fitted leather dresses, corset-like jackets, stiletto heels, and those big tote bags perfect for the crook of your arm. And the audience was a whole room of women, hair flat-ironed and dresses clinging just so, ready to wear it. You could almost hear the hum over the French electronica: the financial crisis neverrrr happeneddddd!

Why this and why now? In his show notes, Mr. Ford wrote, “I became a fashion designer because I wanted to make men and women feel more beautiful and to empower them with a feeling of confidence…. I wanted to make clothes that were flattering. That make one look taller and slimmer and more beautiful or more handsome.”

Photograph courtesy of Tom Ford.

If that doesn’t make it clear, his color theories are even more illuminating: “Given the harshness of the world, a softer color palette seemed right to me this season.” Regarding his use of black (which—and I know this sounds dumb, but it’s not and just believe me—is a Tom Ford signature), he wrote, “Black frames the face of the wearer and emphasizes a silhouette like no other color can. There is a kind of security in black.”

Bingo: if we’re seeing tactical clothing like vests and pants covered with pockets at Lois Vuitton and Alyx (what Vogue called “warcore”), here is another type of uniform offering safety. Mr. Ford doesn’t know what everyone wants; today, people—and I don’t just mean designers, but everyone putting on clothing everyday—are taking more risks in fashion than ever. We’ve said for years that we really live in an “anything goes” age of clothing, but now this is really true—and isn’t a reflection of that spiritual laziness Lagerfeld referred to when he said sweatpants were a sign of defeat, but a source of empowerment. But there are certain women who crave their empowerment in another way. There are certain women for whom feeling beautiful is the strongest sense of security you can ask for.

Photograph courtesy of Tom Ford.
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