In 2003, Tom Ford shaved a woman’s pubic area into the ‘G’ logo for Gucci’s Spring / Summer campaign. I had torn the page out of a magazine and plastered it on my wall alongside a collage of other sartorial tidbits and clippings of Leo and Health. I remember it so clearly, because it was just so shocking. But also, because it was just so beautiful. To me, it was so beautifully jarring, so visually stirring; this overly-stylised, sexually-charged, provocative campaign of Carmen Kass in a silk Gucci silk kimono with her pants down, pubes out. Publicly, it was met with a swell of outrage. The neatly carved “G” did not bode well with the masses; many deeming the ad harmful to both society and women. Within the industry, however, it was lauded for making its point of stylish provocation and for disrupting the stale status quo of fashion at the time, with Gucci adding it “intended to be the ultimate ironic pun for a sexy brand in a logo-led age” and subverting traditional sexual roles: the man on his knees before a woman. Despite what side of the fence you sit – offended or liberated – it captured something else, too.
This campaign came at a time when Brazilian waxing was all the rage, and on the rise. The bush of the 80s was gone. The bikini wax of the 90s fading. The secteurs came out, and the 00s cut a much cleaner personal grooming space, cultivating an era of the “Brazilian wax” and the “landing strip”. This fashion campaign captured this – overtly – but it also captured the teenage beauty zeitgeist of the time with both irony and style, making a bold statement about how women were grooming down there. Tapping the young female preference for “landing strips” and the like (think heart shapes, Bermuda triangles, or straight square strips), even if you were a “take it all off” girl, you could relate. It was high fashion and it was jaw-dropping (and panty-dropping, apparently) and yet as young teenage girls who had just started experimenting with waxing, we could relate.
So aside from embracing your bits and your landing strips, here are five other beauty lessons we learnt from the man, the master, the maestro, Mr. Tom Ford.
1. Fragrance Should Be Luxurious
The world of perfumery was built upon the idea of luxury. But as fragrance evolved, and the homogenisation of perfume became omnipresent, so too did a compromise of quality. Ford was insistent of restoring the luxury perfume deserved, cultivating an Eau de Parfum range, and furthermore, a Private Blend perfume line, that was as luxurious as it was sensual. As breathtaking as it was sensory. Those boxy, stout little flacons and languid, serrated bottles are now so part of the Tom Ford aesthetic, it’s hard to think of Tom Ford without thinking of Black Orchid, or Neroli Portofino.
2. Luxury Can Push The Boundaries
Oftentimes, luxury can veer into slightly safe territory. The true legacy brands prefer to play it safe rather than take risks. You know the drill. Classic reds. Limited palettes. Safe shades. Not Ford. He upped the anti with unrestrained glamour and bold colour, playing with saturated purples, greens, blues. His colour-wheel was deeply pigmented and his products innovative. He was unashamedly loud and proud, screaming from Manhattan rooftops as oppose to whispering from behind curtains. Take, for example, his 2017 Eau de Parfum, Fucking Fabulous. The profanity-laden fragrance, a first of its kind, it was lyrical vulgarity, but chic-ified, the Ford way. And it was emblematic that just because it is stylish, doesn’t mean it can’t be impudent.
3. Sex Sells
According to James Scully, Ford’s forever casting director for Gucci, “Tom Ford really did bring sex back.” He told Garage: “The ostentation of the ’80s was gone, the stock market crashed and we went to the Gulf War. The moment in the world was the gospel of Faith Popcorn ‘cocooning,’ where you sat in your cozy home and watched Friends on your white shabby chic sofa. That was the moment of fashion minimalism, with Jil Sander and Calvin Klein. Everyone was very aware that your clothes would not represent any of the ostentation and brashness of the ‘80s, and everyone was sad. And Tom Ford’s whole motivation at that time was, ‘Fuck this. I want sex.’” And sex he got. At Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and his own eponymous label, Ford steered the ship in the direction of sexed-up, power dressing – both on the body and on the face – to immense success. Aside from the above point of provocation (which continued with a banned Opium ad for YSL starring a sprawling, stark-naked Sophie Dahl bar a pair of stilettos and Pat McGrath’s acid green eyes), each Tom Ford runway is a play on sex in some way. With each new season, his version of ‘sexy’ plays out on both face and hair. Last year’s super smoked-out eyes are testament to this. As too Spring 2017’s boxy, batty wings. And don’t forget 2015’s peacock panda eyes. Ford has an innate knack of making bender eyes look glamorous, parlaying his own hotted-up versions of sex appeal through smokey lids and rich lips. Tomorrow, we can expect more of the same; bold power strokes, stamps of colour and a lot of kohl. You can take the boy out of Saint Laurent…
4. The Boys Can Play, Too
While he wasn’t the first to launch male-friendly makeup, he was almost like the captain of its crusade, catapulting it to centre stage with a dedicated-male grooming range. But perhaps it was his Lips & Boys Lipstick range, named after men, which truly turned gender roles on their head. Despite still sitting under his “female” tab, the Boys lipsticks have a deliberate masculine overtone; housed in brooding mahogany bullets, they possess the power pigments and mate collection, and of course, can be worn my anyone. Gender fluidity at its best.
5. Have Fun, even if it means getting your hands – or lipstick – dirty
The designer-come-makeup-mogul-come-director-come-producer surprisingly doesn’t take himself too seriously. How do we know this? A recent collaboration with Australian comedy queen, Celeste Barber, saw a snog-fest play out for his latest Tom Ford Beauty campaign. No, it wasn’t just a kiss. It was a full-on, sloppy, slippery snog. And he encouraged others to do the same. At its media launch, he invited us into his Kissing Booth for a cheeky pash-and-dash with a desired lover, friend, (or boss!) in front of the camera. The takeaway? You can wear your lipstick – and have fun with it, too.
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