Why you should care

Because fashion’s biggest superstar is only 52 years old. And that’s worth celebrating.

Tom Ford is more than a designer. Tom Ford is a freaking creative enigma with a penchant for shaking up the status quo in unexpected ways. Today, he receives the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award — at age 52.

And why? He packs a punch. Last week, he pretty much declared a whole category of media obsolete with his quote about Rihanna (who is the CFDA’s 2014 Fashion Icon). “Customers don’t care anymore about reviews or hard-copy publications,” Ford reportedly told Style.com’s Tim Blanks. “They care about what picture Rihanna just Instagrammed.”

Ouch.

Then there was the casual revelation, a little over a month ago, that he and longtime partner Richard Buckley (a hard-copy journalist, irony or honesty abound) had quietly wed.

Tom Ford and Richard Buckley, both in tuxedos, seated at a table filled with glasses.

Designer Tom Ford (L) and Richard Buckley attend the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Viewing Dinner Hosted By Graydon Carter on March 2, 2014.

Source Larry Busacca/Getty

And is there any question that Ford’s $950 sneakers (oh, let’s just call them the $1,000 wonders) will spark outrage somewhere this fall? If that weren’t crazy enough, take a gander at the $38,000 Tom Ford crocodile handbag that was supposedly at the center of the Oprah-Switzerland store-contretemps last year.

But why does any of this matter? Because Ford is one of the most important designers of our time. As creative director of Gucci from 1994–2004, Ford managed to not only capture a moment, but also define it. That takes strong vision and equally brutal attention to detail. It’s this same talent we saw at work in his feature film “A Single Man” (he adapted the screenplay), which earned the first-time director’s debut two Oscar nominations right out of the gate.

By the time Ford had an entire hip-hop song devoted to him (thank you, Jay Z), we knew some kind of cultural apotheosis had been reached. Would a mere name-check by a rapper ever be impressive again?

Let’s go back to when Ford first blasted his way into popular consciousness, before Jay Z and Justin Timberlake got a hold of him and when a woman named Madonna said the words “Gucci, Gucci, Gucci” in answer to a question about what she was wearing.

Actors Heather Graham (L) and Samuel L. Jackson (C) present the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award to Tom Ford (R) of Gucci at the 1999 VH1-Vogue Fashion Awards 05 December 1999 in New York.

Actors Heather Graham (L) and Samuel L. Jackson (C) present the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award to Tom Ford (R) of Gucci at the 1999 VH1-Vogue Fashion Awards 05 December 1999 in New York.

Source Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty

Ford, hired by legendary retailer Dawn Mello, had been quietly toiling at Gucci since 1990 when he began to send up test flares: He, for instance, took the classic Gucci bit and put it on a sexy stiletto pump. Sick! — would be the best way to describe the reaction then. Mello decamped for Bergdorf Goodman and Ford replaced her as creative director. That’s when firecrackers began exploding.

Freed from any restrictions, he created the autumn/winter 1995/1996 collection.

One part rock ‘n’ roll, one part Brigitte Bardot, the collection summoned up the sex-kitten in all women. Yet there was nothing objectifying about it. The opening look of the runway show was a pistachio-green satin shirt layered under a plush green jacket worn with tight pants that oozed sexy. Any woman could wear the look (by closing a button or two) and every woman did.

After that, you watched Gucci to get the season’s trends. Check out the pivotal 1995 show for yourself. And note the details: The tousled bedroom hair, smoky eyes, and hip-rolling walk of the models — the likes of which have not been seen since.

Superskinny belts. Sixties footwear references. The hobo handbag shape. Models included Kate Moss, sex siren Helena Christensen, Amber Valletta (who opened the show), Teutonic giantess Nadja Auermann and Karen Mulder. Men’s wear and women’s wear share the same runway (a trend Ford didn’t start, but pushed heavily). And yes, that’s Jason Lewis, pre-“90210” and “Sex and the City.” Here’s a sample of when Ford rocked our world and changed the direction of fashion.

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