Allow me to begin by by saying just how deeply I love Tom Ford. I often dream about him. I would take a bullet for him. I am frequently washed over with a nausea-like feeling of deep jealousy of Richard Buckley.
Which is why gives me great displeasure to say that I did not remotely like or understand why Mr. Ford decided to show his Spring/Summer 2016 Womenswear collection in a three-minute video format.
In the Nick Knight-directed video, models disco down a runway and are cheered on by other dancing models in the frow, as it were. Quick cuts and high-energy movement give it a music video feel. Lady Gaga shows up and the dancing continues. I walked away feeling dizzy, wondering what exactly I had just watched – it certainly did not have the usual sexy, mysterious, over-the-top Tom Ford Feel.
Videos are nothing new for fashion shows. Most designers livestream their runway shows, allowing people around the world to watch in real time. This is a fantastic and democratizing tool for fans, bloggers, and buyers, who can experience the show firsthand, and not rely solely on still photos or critics’ commentary. However, the short video format Mr. Ford implemented for S/S ’16 simply is not an effective media for viewing a fashion show. The focus is entirely on mood which, granted, is important, but the viewer walks away with no recollection of what the clothes looked like – a factor that will certainly prove problematic when it comes down to pre-ordering and retail. And then, there’s the missed opportunity. Mr. Ford is one of the great showmen of our time. He is the king of spectacle, masterful at setting a scene and manipulating an audience (see: deep carpet of rose petals falling from the ceiling at F/W 2015), and deeply obsessive about his work. Why would he pass up this opportunity to display his showmanship, and instead send out something that felt last-minute?
The choice to make a video likely mirrors where Mr. Ford is creatively. He is about to start filming his second film, Nocturnal Animals, and is likely deeply ensconced in the medium of film. The video is more likely in reaction to the film project—perhaps he simply didn’t have the time to produce a sumptuous live show because of his other creative endeavors.
Then there is the alarming issue of Lady Gaga’s presence. Why she was cast as the face of this video initially seems unfathomable, as she has been musically and culturally irrelevant for some time now, and doesn’t espouse the Fordian ideals in the way that, say, Carine Roitfeld and Rihanna do. If Mr. Ford was looking for a new face for the S/S Campaign, he should have gone with Lucky Blue Smith, who also makes a cameo in the film. Having a male model front the womenswear campaign would have been edgy and in line with the current androgynous movement, and Lucky Blue has that special charismatic Ford Factor that Gaga lacks. However, as Lucky Blue is relatively unknown outside the fashion world, and the collection is already forgettable because of its format, it makes sense that the label would go with a universally known celebrity to front the campaign. Choosing Gaga was more of a necessary strategic, and not an artistic, decision due to the video format.
Although Ford’s video format was well received by the media, it is doubtful that it will become a trend in fashion shows. The short film makes the pieces forgettable, lacks a sense of drama and narrative, and distorts brand identity. The best place for videos in fashion are for marketing purposes—setting a scene, depicting a short narrative, and ultimately reinforcing the brand’s meaning. Prada does an especially good job with this, and Dior is beginning to break into the medium as well (Miss Dior and Dior Addict fragrances have been making fantastic videos for the last five years or so). Burberry smartly has an “Acoustic” music video channel, featuring independent British acts performing exclusive sets for the brand, which reinforces the cool, youthful, Britishness that Burberry promotes. Even Ford has used this format to promote his cosmetics, both for the Lips & Boys collection and the men’s skincare line, to great effect — which is why his fashion show video was such a disappointment.
What Ford’s video really makes me wonder is if he’s getting ready to leave fashion again. I’m still suffering from abandonment issues from when he took a break to make A Single Man in the late aughts. I’m afraid he’s going to go out one Sunday morning to buy a wide-lapel jacket and never come back. Ford’s true skills lie in creating a world, a brand, and his obsessive attention to detail and instincts in setting a mood serve him well here whether he is making a collection or a film. I think it’s fantastic that he’s pushing himself creatively to explore new media and put his extraordinary eye to good use, but I’m not ready to see him go from the fashion world. I’m afraid this S/S ’16 womenswear video is indicative of Ford hedging his bets, deciding between continuing as a designer, or pursuing filmmaking or other artistic endeavors, perhaps even full-time.