"When sex goes out of business, so do we."
A bon mot of brilliance delivered back when by Estée Lauder, one her son Leonard Lauder takes considerable delight in repeating.
Assuming the beauty doyenne was correct, these should be heady times for the house she founded. This month will see the first fruits of Lauder's curious marriage with Tom Ford, the man for whom sex and style are virtually synonymous. "We've always tried to position ourselves where we're selling something that's really sexy," says Leonard Lauder, the company chairman. "That's the cornerstone of Estée Lauder."
Ford's own line, to include a fragrance and makeup, is slated to debut next fall. In the meantime, Lauder engaged him to create two limited-edition collections. "Tom Ford was the combustion that drove the entire Nineties," says John Demsey, president of Estée Lauder. "The glamour, the excitement and the product not only inspired people to love Gucci, but fueled an amazing moment in fashion around the world. He has the ability and the sensibility to do the same in beauty."
Ford will divulge little about his own launch, except that he has developed a fragrance and that it has a name. He is not, however, someone who works spontaneously. Rather, he built his success on careful analysis of the cultural winds and savvy anticipation of what's next. This photo portfolio depicts his view of a society dehumanized by the quest for physical perfection, for which the beauty world bears considerable responsibility.
"We've become plastic, objectifying the human body waxed and polished and buffed and shined up and manipulated," Ford says. "And then, of course, I'm portrayed as the one doing the manipulating, the polishing, buffing, shaping, which is what I do. It's just what we do. What the fashion industry does."
Brassy stuff from a guy about to launch his own line. Of course, provocation goes to the core of Ford's style.
Bridget Foley and Jane Larkworthy
W: How is life with Lauder?
TF: "Before we go any further, can we just clarify my relationship with Estée Lauder? I don't know why it's so hard to understand, but no one's getting it right. I signed a deal with Lauder to produce and distribute the Tom Ford fragrance and cosmetics collection, which launches in fall 2006. Since it takes 18 months to create a brand from scratch, in the meantime the Lauders asked me to do two small limited-edition collections. The first is Youth Dew Amber Nude. The original Youth Dew was maybe a little bit heavy for today's taste, so the first thing I did was reduce the concentration to make it more modern. The second project is the Azurée collection, which launches next spring.
W: These pictures make an interesting beauty debut, to say the least.
TF: I like to put things in social context. When we [Ford, photographer Steven Klein and W Creative Director Dennis Freedman] met to discuss this shoot, we talked about how certain things are so ingrained in our society. Like, for example, we live in a hairless society. There was a moment in time when if you were watching porn, or saw just any model or actor or man, there was hairBurt Reynolds, for example, stretched out naked totally covered in hair. Men had mustaches. Men had chest hair. In today's world, all the guys are shaved, although gay men are going back to hair. We're living also in a very plastic moment where everything is manufactured and pumped up. If you look at SUVs, they look like station wagons that have been inflated. Breasts today look pumped up. Lips are pumped up. Butts are pumped up. What's happening culturally carries over onto the human form, and at the moment they're busty and big and pumped up.