Never mind New York's hot dogs 'n' hamburger smackdown; Tom Ford has always been a ham. He gives good performance. So it was a letdown to learn that he wouldn't be talking us through his new collection as usual. "I've quit talking," he said bluntly to an assemblage of journalists at his London presentation. "We know what we're looking at." True. But Ford couldn't resist throwing out a pre-presentation clue. "Chastity and perversity," he announced. It's a face-off as old as sexuality itself. Ken Russell probably issued the definitive manifesto on the subject with his movie The Devils, but what Ford brought to the table was his own inimitable, paradoxical union of chill and steam heat, voyeur and participant. It's probably not so great for someone like Ford, who has always traded in the transgressive thrills of sex's outer limits, that the Fifty Shades phenomenon has made bondage way-less-than-a-dirty-word everywhere from Boise to Borneo, but nevertheless, the designer forged ahead with a tie-me-up subtext that bound tops to the torso and boots to the leg. But the acute tailoring ensures that there is always something of the dominatrix in a Ford woman, so there was absolutely no submission in items like the black patent coat or the evening gown that flew away in a sweeping spinnaker of taffeta.
In no way did it feel like new ground for the designer. Even in the most restrained outfits—the flesh-toned turtleneck matched to a pencil skirt in exactly the same shade, with boots bound all the way up to the thigh, or the black biker jacket sat over sassy bike shorts (though Ford would probably prefer "Bermudas")—it was hard to find the chastity. "The belts!" Tom cried. "The hoods!" Yes, there is something vaguely penitential about a hood—unless it's perched atop a plunging décolleté. The perversity, by way of contrast, was much closer. "It's in my heart," Ford said. And never were truer words spoken.