By MATTHEW SCHNEIER
Behind a kidney-shaped black desk with an expensive floral arrangement, a blond concierge with a ready smile waits to wish you a good afternoon. You are on Madison Avenue and 61st Street, a prime location and expensive real estate, so you may be entering a high-end hotel or an architecture firm, but in fact this is Tom Ford, a master of opulent ambience if ever there was one, for whom black tie is the best tie and no courtesy need be scrapped.
That this level of formality is hardly matched by the clientele milling about on a recent Saturday afternoon, almost without exception in gym clothes or flip-flops, is of no import. Mr. Ford, a fashion lifer with past lives at Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, where he helped pioneer provocation as a contemporary fashion idiom, believes in setting a mood, thickly applied. (Every perfume ad worth its oud hints at sex; Mr. Ford famously wedged a bottle between a female model’s naked breasts and a male model’s buttocks, the implicit made explicit.)
His store staff wears three-piece suits, his lights are dim and suggestive. “Welcome, sir,” the whole setup purrs. “Your dressing room will see you now.”
It is a heady invitation. Mr. Ford’s store, relocated from several blocks farther up Madison Avenue, is a pleasure dome of glass, chrome and thick-ply carpeting. All along the avenue, new store concepts are being piloted by Mr. Ford’s competitors in the luxury market: To the south, there is the store-as-art-gallery (the new Calvin Klein shop, painted Big Bird yellow and scattered with objets by the artist Sterling Ruby); to the north, store-as-avant-garde-office-park (the evocatively drab new Balenciaga). Mr. Ford doesn’t budge.
The new space may be a bit lighter and less heavily masculine than Mr. Ford’s previous store, which was designed before he had introduced his women’s collection, but it is well within Mr. Ford’s style — oligarch’s pied-à-terre — with its marble accents and shagreen end tables. “Does it look expensive?” Mr. Ford asked an interviewer from Women’s Wear Daily earlier this summer, and was duly reassured. “Oh, good,” he said. “I love that.”
On the first floor is the women’s collection. The heels are high, the dresses sequined. In a glass vitrine center stage, a lamb coat is laid out full length like a trophy, which, for a particular customer, it is. There is an apartment feel to the store’s warren of small rooms, which open onto one another.
In the back, makeup, fragrance and eyewear get a bright, mirrored cove; up front, a more subdued room features a few of the most exotic, costly handbags displayed like artifacts. Mr. Ford’s wares have long charmed the rich and famous. The N.B.A. player Dahntay Jones, a guard most recently with the Cavaliers, and his pregnant wife, Valeisha, were being squired around by a black-clad attendant offering assistance. “You’re going to need a push gift,” she cooed.
Up the spiral staircase, a glossy corkscrew of black fiberglass, is the men’s department, where the real action is. Mr. Ford is known for red-carpet women’s wear (those sequined dresses are major sellers), but his is the unusual luxury brand at which men’s wear outsells women’s. (Mr. and Mrs. Jones had soon repaired upward to assess men’s backpacks and leather goods.)
The men’s floor is brighter and more spacious than the women’s, and divided between sportswear and suiting, a shoe room tucked in the back. Mr. Ford’s sportswear is of the unadventurously correct, adventurously priced variety: to gussy up your just-so stonewashed jeans ($680), try a suede bomber jacket with shearling collar ($6,990). In formal wear, Mr. Ford stretches further, offering velvet and psychedelic jacquard.
But it wouldn’t be a correct Tom Ford visit without a suit, the four-figure indulgence that sets a certain kind of power broker’s eyes agleam. Here, too, Mr. Ford has his preferences. Overruling his taste for a rakish peak lapel requires a trip to the custom salon; in made-to-measure, the customer is king, but on the sales floor Mr. Ford is boss, and the boss prefers peak. So be it.
Soon I was encased in the O’Connor, Mr. Ford’s most popular suit style — it has a slimmer profile and a shorter jacket than his Windsor cut — in a royalish shade of navy that Anthony Butler, a dapper young salesman, assured me “photographs beautifully.” It was reassuring, though it hadn’t been my first thought. But could it be that at Tom Ford, every man is a celebrity, and every carpet red?
The O’Connor is Mr. Ford’s entry-level model — $3,960. (This for a two-piece suit; a three-piece version, with waistcoat, climbs to $5,440.) The ethics of such expenditure are beyond the scope of your Critical Shopper. Suffice it to say, for those who have their own spiral staircases in glossy black fiberglass, the leap may not amount to much. Did it look expensive? It did.
What’s more, it seemed to come with its own gravity. Mr. Ford’s shirt collar stood higher and taller than almost any I have worn, and, in his suit, I walked taller. (A trick of the make, Mr. Butler whispered: Mr. Ford’s jackets are canvassed — that is to say, constructed internally — more staunchly than most. They have, in effect, posture built in.)
I did not have the means or the wherewithal to lay down my Amex. But for a few minutes, I was a Ford man, peer of the rich and fabulous, literally keeping up with the Joneses. Dress for the job you want, the saying goes. May I introduce you to me, the newest Cleveland Cavalier?
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