The 'Tom and Dom' dream team

The 'Tom and Dom' dream team
Tom Ford International chairman Domenico De Sole (left) wants everyone to copy the brand he started with designer Tom Ford (right).

With his elegant salt-and- pepper coif and dapper Italian air, Tom Ford International chairman Domenico De Sole looks like he was born into the fashion industry. But that is far from the case, he says.

The 69-year-old considered working in journalism and law before settling on the business side of fashion, where an encounter with a young design talent by the name of Tom Ford during his time at Gucci irrevocably shaped his career.

In an interview with Life!, he describes the now famous Ford, 52, as "the best designer of his generation" and recounts an episode in London a few years ago.

"One day, somebody came to my office out of the blue to take my measurements.

"When I asked what he was doing, he said Tom was preparing a suit for me," says Mr De Sole, a father of two, who was in Singapore to speak at the International New York Times' luxury conference. "Tom has an amazing eye and knows exactly what suits me and what I would be comfortable wearing."

The Tom Ford brand will open its first South-east Asian store in April at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

Mr De Sole's trust in Ford's vision has served him well since their paths first crossed in 1994. He even saved Ford from being fired by brand co-owner Maurizio Gucci during a cost-cutting measure.

Ford, Gucci's creative designer then, and Mr De Sole, its chief executive - dubbed the "Tom and Dom" dream team - went on to turn the Italian house's fortunes around.

After teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in 1993, Gucci went public in 1995 and reported more than US$1 billion in sales by 1998. This was thanks largely to Ford's sexy gowns, updated accessories and fashion shows.

Gucci's success, however, brought with it new challenges. In 1998, luxury conglomerate LVMH came nipping at the brand's heels and its head, Mr Bernard Arnault, amassed more than a third of Gucci shares.

Mr De Sole and Ford fought the move, which they described as a hostile takeover without a full and fair bid to shareholders. Mr De Sole recalls the legal tussle with LVMH as a difficult time that felt like "World War III".

But even LVMH's divide-and-conquer tactics, he says, could not drive a wedge between him and Ford.

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