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Smart money

As the curtains rise on Tom Ford's store in New York, we look at the potential of menswear's latest luxe line

Tom Ford could have done whatever he wanted to. At Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent he presided over multi-billion-dollar global operations, building a reputation as one of the fashion industry's hottest creative talents.

With such a pedigree, opening a single 8,600 sq ft store in New York seems a modest proposal. But 845 Madison Avenue is expected to be the first of many stores, and a limited wholesale roll-out will follow.

And what a store it is. Ford's vision for the shop was to combine the heritage of Savile Row with a sense of Italian flair - influences redolent of class and heritage. The result is a modern and moody environment that oozes luxury.

Glass and dark wood renderings inspire awe more than comfort, feelings that are amplified by the leather furniture, suede walls and soft, beaverskin rugs. The polished-to-a-shine spiral banister that leads customers from the ready-to-wear collection to the bespoke sales area on the first floor is guarded by a Jean Arp sculpture imported from Ford's home in London's Mayfair.

The retail imprint of Ford's aesthetic DNA provides a blueprint he is poised to replicate. At the flagship's launch, he was asked whether he would be opening another store soon. Not one, he said, but lots.

Rune Gustafson, chief executive of brand consultancy Interbrand, says: "Expect to see the label grow globally. Fashion capitals will, of course, be key and London must be on the list, though it is possible that Russia and the Far East will be first. The label can be filtered down into more achievable price points. But this should certainly not happen yet.

"The thing that sets Tom Ford apart is that, while the brand is clearly steeped in luxury, there is a more youthful feel to it than other luxury labels. Although it's not a heritage brand, it is still driven by old-fashioned service. There's even a butler in the store."

The butler was trained personally by Ford's own valet, Angus Richards-Barron, who was on hand at the Madison Avenue opening.

It was Ford's butler who inspired the mood behind the Tom Ford brand. The way Ford tells it, he spotted his butler wielding a Bunsen burner. Concerned that he was dabbling in something untoward, Ford spied on him and was surprised by what he saw: his butler was using the burner to melt wax onto Ford's shoes, which he then polished to create a highly burnished effect.

Ford said the whole experience made him feel like a spoilt child. He had always had wonderfully polished shoes but had never stopped to think how or why. But although the level of care shamed him, it also inspired him. That was what he wanted to give his customers: the skilled care of an artisan.

Gustafson believes Ford has succeeded so far in presenting that vista. "He has to be careful to make sure that the appeal goes beyond just the nouveau riche. I'm sure the sight of dozens of footballers trawling out of a store would not be the sort of image the brand wants. But the product seems to have negotiated this hurdle. The branding is quite subtle, so only people in the know will recognise it. The target customer is fashion-quiet but style-loud."

On one matter, Ford's spokeswoman is unequivocal. "There are no plans for womenswear at all at the moment," she says. "Tom's career so far has involved things that stimulate him, and that means creating something new and different. At the moment that involves creating a menswear brand, but not womenswear."

Less clear is when the Ford motor will ease into the UK, either through wholesale or retail. Whatever happens, he has a loyal fanbase in waiting. Although any potential customers would be advised to start saving up now.

CLASSIC CUTS

From sober to dandy, Tom Ford's in-store spring collection and the autumn pieces hidden upstairs speak of a classic sensibility. This is not the sexy appeal of his Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent days, although the body conscious cuts ensure Ford retains an edge.

Narrow waists and high armholes on suits define a 1960s-inspired silhouette. There are three basic cuts, but each has a high shoulder roll. Details include internal mobile phone pockets backed with canvas to ensure the phone does not disturb the line of the suit.

Added extras include split-yoke shirts and TF monograms on slippers, shirts and robes. These initials are not about heavy branding, but suggestions of where customers can have their own initials inscribed - a la Hugh Hefner.

There is a touch of Hef about the robes, but Ford has more distinguished customers in mind. "If Cary Grant were alive, this is where he would shop," says Ford, perhaps giving away a clue to the collection's timeless aspirations.

THE PRICES

Tom Ford's entry-level price is US$75 (£38) for a pair of socks. Ties and fragrances start at US$165 (£83) with footwear from US$990 (£497), rising to US$14,000 (£7,025) for crocodile-skin shoes.

Ready-to-wear shirts start at US$340 (£171) and ready-to-wear suits range from US$2,900 to US$4,900 (£1,455 to £2,458). Made-to-measure prices go as high as US$18,000 (£9,029) for a bespoke suit, but the price is potentially limitless, depending on the detail and fabric used.

Fabrics are all produced under licence from Ermenegildo Zegna, Tom Ford's production partner. But none of the wools, cashmeres and silks feature in Zegna's suiting. They are exclusive to Tom Ford.

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