The moment I heard that Tom Ford’s show would be held in the dusty underground of an abandoned Manhattan subway, my memory went into overdrive.
There we fashion folk were, in Paris in the early Nineties, scuttling down the creepy and empty Saint Martin train station, lit only by a thousand candles flickering on the stairway. In those far-off days, when fashion shows were only for a privileged few – or in this case, dedicated enthusiasts – Martin Margiela’s ultra-original story was striking and decisive.
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After the gaudy, garish, go-go outfits of the Eighties, there was the Belgian designer offering a different take on fashion. Instead of vast-shouldered, flashy looks, there were soft objects, wrapped over the body and made up like a patchwork from silk scarves and fabric remnants – all reconstructed from found pieces. If those clothes from the Spring/Summer 1992 collection were shown again today, they would seem extraordinarily relevant to current make-over attitudes – especially to the Millennial generation.
So it was with bated breath that I found the shabby door to Manhattan’s disused Bowery station and made my way down the iron steps to where a few subway guards in fluorescent outfits were standing on the abandoned rails.
Since I only received Tom Ford’s collection statement for Spring/Summer 2020 after the show, I did not know his fashion story as the first sporty tops with dynamically draped skirts came out under a deep purple light. The message was strong, athletic and sexy, with the upper and lower scale melded when a racing cap topped the liquid folds of a pleated dress. Bright orange or turquoise stood out among the designer’s much-loved black.
With hindsight of the Tom Ford words, my vision skewed into what he was thinking: a high-low mix that leaned – in spite of the subterranean venue – towards glamour.
His inspiration had been “the shot of Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick coming out of a manhole cover in New York City in 1965” (by photographer Burt Glinn).
“Manhole, underground, subway… That was the thought process here; so completely ‘New York’ – or is it?” the designer wondered, referring to other movie images with the metro as backdrop, including Isabelle Adjani and Christophe Lambert in Luc Besson’s Subway.
Then there were the hard-edged, shiny metal bras – as worn by Edie Sedgwick in silver in the Sixties and Ursula Andress in The Tenth Victim – and inspiration from the Yves Saint Laurent-Claude Lalanne breastplates for Autumn/Winter 1969. To this, add a reference to Jeff Koons’ polished steel bunny sculpture, Rabbit. Ford pointed out that that particular artwork recently sold at Sotheby’s for $91 million.
The effect of all these references to the past was to have a sharply tailored, buttercup-yellow jacket worn with softer brown silk shorts, to which was added the so-called sophistication of high heeled shoes (in silver) – rather than sneakers. The female models had bras as accessories – even moulded across the breasts – while the male models had smart suits.
So it was fashion business as usual for the designer who, as well as being in the movie business, has taken on a third role this season as Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). That has led to a welcome compact calendar for the fashion crowd – even if the events are still held all over the city and beyond in Brooklyn.
Over all, the Tom Ford show had a strong, clear vision, with desirable clothes and sophisticated sexy mixes. But none of it reflected the global stirring of rage from the millennial and younger generations about the price – in many different senses – of fashion.