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When Tom Ford exits his label, a challenge lies ahead for Estée Lauder

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

20 Nov 2022

People |Opinion

Image: Tom Ford

There was no fine print suggesting Tom Ford may exit his brand after the 2.8 billion dollar deal with Estée Lauder is completed. It was clear as day, in dried ink, that Mr Ford “will continue to serve as the brand’s creative visionary after closing and through the end of calendar 2023.”

That would make Mr Ford free to pursue other avenues in just over one year.

What would Tom Ford look like without Tom Ford?

Mr Ford, a household name with high global recognition and marketing cachet - and perhaps known best for his high octane designs - is likely to step away from the company he founded in 2005.

While Estée Lauder has made significant fiscal successes licensing the beauty arm of the business, Mr Ford’s vision has been crystal in execution across all product categories, from packaging to lipstick names to advertising campaigns to the brand's e-commerce site design. A vision that cannot be easily replicated by a license holder or installed by a new management team. Mr Ford was the crucial link between the Zegna operated fashion side and Estée Lauder's beauty business, a paramount connection that would cease with his departure.

When luxury fashion labels are so inextricably tied to the founders after which they are named, from Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen to Hubert de Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent, the transition is nearly always fraught with bumps in the road.

As for the brand Tom Ford, its beauty category may be easier to operate without the creative input of Mr Ford, initially building on market expansion, deepening retail relations and its B2C business, in comparison to runway collections and red carpet styling, which have largely been marked Mr Ford’s unequivocal personal stamp.

Yet it is the magic that some designers bring to the world of fashion, influencing not only how we dress but also defining a moment in time through their creative vision, that has rarely been replicated by a corporate entity. Sure, an iconic perfume like Nina Ricci’s L’air du Temps has been a successful profit-driver since its launch in the late 1940s, but the fashion side of the business has struggled to remain relevant, was bought and sold multiple times and had its flagship store shuttered. When PVH bought Calvin Klein it capitalised on licensing the denim, underwear and mid-market CK ranges, but it faltered with the mainline, closing its iconic John Pawson-designed Manhattan flagship and ultimately shutting down the luxury business.

Let’s hope Mr Ford’s magic will long be felt after his departure.

ESTEE LAUDER
Tom Ford