After three years at the helm of the American fashion association, Tom Ford has announced that he will step down as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). He will do so as of May 31, 2022, and his executive director, Steven Kolb, will serve as interim chairman until December 31, 2022.
The stylish designer elevated the presence of American fashion at a time when New York Fashion Week was in danger of losing its relevance as a result of a tough, sprawling calendar, replete with commercially driven garments that tended to lack runway inspiration.
While some industry members may think «it’s been too fast»; according to the statement issued by the CFDA, presidents typically stay in office between two and four years. Ford’s tenure was supposed to last two years, from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2021, but was extended by one year.
That idea of two to four years changed completely with Stan Herman, current board treasurer, who held the position for 15 years (1991-2006), and Diane Von Furstenberg, who held it for 13 years (2006-2019).
Past presidents held their positions for the typically appointed time. Among them: Sydney Wragge (1963-1965); Norman Norell (1965-1973); Oscar de la Renta (1973-1976, 1987-1989); Herbert Kasper (1977-1979); Bill Blass (1980-1981); Mary McFadden (1982-1983); Perry Ellis (1984-1986); and Carolyne Roehm (1989-1991).
One trait Ford brought to the position was an international perspective, thanks to his time at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, his design studio and the runway shows held in London when he founded his eponymous brand in New York. His predecessors were Seventh Avenue-born designers and brand leaders.
Ford’s critics were quick to assert that his firm, now based in Los Angeles (where the designer resides with his son), was not ideal for the position. It also didn’t help that the designer chose to show his second collection as CFDA president in Los Angeles in February 2020, but Ford had already made a point of showing it there during the Oscars in previous seasons. The designer was quick to remind his detractors that it was the «Council of Fashion Designers of America and not the Council of Fashion Designers of New York,» BoF reports.
He elaborated in WWD: «The decision to show in February in Los Angeles seems very natural to me. It’s my home and has a strong impact on the way I live and work in both fashion and film. There is a lot of excitement in Los Angeles during that particular weekend and the relationship between film and fashion is very strong. In my role as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, my big goal and priority is to globalize and bring attention to American fashion. There really is no stage as big and prominent in the world as Los Angeles during the Academy Awards.»
Ford returned to New York to celebrate her Spring 2022 runway show in September 2021, days before her beloved husband, fashion journalist Richard Buckley, passed away on September 19, 2021 at the age of 72. The couple had been together since their first meeting, when Buckley worked as a reporter at WWD and Ford was a designer at Perry Ellis.
They spent more than three decades together. «It’s been hard after 35 years, very hard. I keep thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, I’ve got to call Richard,’ or I’ve got to text him about this. And he’s not here,» Ford told WSJ.
Ford’s business faced another hurdle when the designer had to cancel his fall 2022 runway show scheduled for New York Fashion Week due to problems caused by the omicron variant. The virus wreaked havoc on his design and production studio staff in Los Angeles and Italian factories, preventing his collection from being completed on time. It was a major blow to New York Fashion Week, which saw major absences including The Row, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs and up-and-coming designer Christopher John Rogers. One lasting effect of the pandemic was the opening of a door for designers to move away from the traditional timelines and physical formats of a typical fashion week.
During his tenure, Ford launched key initiatives on behalf of the CFDA. First, he diversified the board with the addition of four new directors – Virgil Abloh, Carly Cushnie, Maria Cornejo and Kerby-Jean Raymond. According to a close anonymous source, Ford felt strongly committed to this mission and was ahead of the industry’s inclusion efforts that emerged in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
This was supported by the launch of new programs to achieve bring much needed diversity, equity and inclusion to the fashion world, including CFDA Impact, to identify, connect and support thousands of talents through diversity, equity and inclusion work, and collaborations with brands to provide access to hundreds of jobs, opportunities and scholarships.
She also led A Common Thread with Vogue, which distributed more than $5 million in aid to fashion companies during the first two years of the pandemic (79% of them owned by women and minorities), allowing many companies to stay afloat while their businesses were crippled.
He also strengthened New York’s Fashoin Week, reducing the official calendar to five days and five nights. This was a great move, as it previously lasted up to eight days and received a multitude of criticism for being so long and filled with purely commercial runway shows.
The collections program is a very controversial point in New York. IMG also presents a different program than the CFDA’s official NYFW program, making it seem as if the two organizations are at odds. Ford’s presence helped forge a stronger alliance with IMG. It launched the American Collections Calendar to include all designers, no matter when and where they show, as an act of cohesion.
It also enabled designers to stand out in the marketplace with the launch of Runway360, the CFDA’s innovative digital platform for showcasing and selling collections.
Bridget Foley, a New York-based fashion journalist who wrote copy for Tom Ford 001 and 002, thought the American designer was the right choice.
«Tom was the perfect person to succeed DVF as president of the CFDA: he is a stylish, international star with a no-nonsense work attitude. He took on the position with a determination to raise the profile and reputation of American fashion around the world. She also wanted to shorten the very long duration of NYFW,» she said by email.
She added that Ford accomplished «the latter and moved toward the former, it was a process. But along came the coronavirus and the CFDA’s focus shifted to survival techniques. Perhaps in the midst of the pandemic nightmare Tom immediately recognized the need to open CFDA to new and different voices.»
The news will have the industry watching for his possible successor. Currently, the board consists of Tracy Reese (vice chair), Vera Wang (secretary), Stan Herman (treasurer), Stacey Bendet, Bethann Hardison, Dao-Yi Chow, Prabal Gurung, Tommy Hilfiger, Norma Kamali, Michael Kors, Reed Krakoff, Ralph Lauren, Ashley Olsen, Italo Zucchelli, Diane von Furstenberg, Maria Cornejo, Kerby Jean-Raymond and Carly Cushnie. The position is purely voluntary.