“Color! Fashion! I love it!” said Tom Ford backstage after a show that ended the Fall season in a climax of exuberant, sophisticated, grown-up sexiness. He was looking back, to the 1940s collection that Saint Laurent designed in the 70s, but also moving things forward, and he hit exactly the right balance with his first outfit: a soft jade silk-velvet jacket, fastened at the side with a satin ribbon, over a flouncy knee-length skirt in a paler green and fishnets finished by Lucite-heeled ankle-strap shoes.
Ford shook off the muted, slightly tortured mood of his last collection and embraced the vibrant, daring color clashes Saint Laurent used so oftencranberry and red, brown and pale blue, powder pink and black, and the odd vulgar sparkly heeled emerald shoe to throw everything off a bit. He had fun with the idea of Saint Laurent fur by exaggerating the sleeves on a fox coat, dangling whole tails from the wrists and belting it with a stiff plastic bow. That plastic also came out on evening gowns as see-through breastplates and cuffs glittering with diamanté.
But that’s not to say this was a complete change of direction. The slinky flippy skirts he showed under jackets last season were the beginning of a train of thought that here flowered into gorgeous ruffles, exposed black lingerie, fur chubbies and a cascade of long evening gowns. Adding to the mood of happy nostalgia, meanwhile, was a red-lipped Karen Elsonher red hair done in a pageboyblack models with afros and a soundtrack courtesy of Diana Ross and the Supremes.
So what made this twenty-first-century Tom and not 1970s Yves? The way Ford knocked the stuffing out of what had become an ossified conservative look with a series of cheeky, knowing twists. There’s nothing ladylike about silk-chiffon dresses that are so sheer you can see straight through to the fishnets beneath. About a blouse neckline that dips below the bra. Or the lace-filled cutouts he planted into the flanks of a pair of black leather pants. (If that puts him in line for criticism, it’s worth remembering that once upon a time Saint Laurent himself came under fire for so-called bad taste.) Simply put, there was enough beauty and controversy in this collection to make it a talking pointand a money spinnerfor the next six months. Which means Tom Ford has done it again.