When Keni Valenti, the New York Dealer of vintage clothing, heard that this would be Tom Ford’s last season designing for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the very first thing he did was rush out to the nearest Gucci store and gobble up roll upon roll of shiny wallpaper embossed with interlocking G’s. “I have three bathrooms in my apartment in Miami,” Valenti says, “and they all have it now. And matching Gucci towels. It’s a tribute to Tom. Because this is the end of glamour.”
Tribute accomplished, Valenti turned his thoughts to a stash back in his garment-district showroom: matte jersey dresses from Ford’s fall-winter 1996 collection for Gucci. Long and lean with delicately placed slashes and holes for flashing bits of thong underpants and Elsa Peretti–esque hardware, the dresses evoked a bit of Gernreich here and Halston there and were terribly sexy. They were an inspiration for Harold Koda’s “Goddess” exhibition at the Met in May 2003, and many serious collectors of contemporary fashion had already labeled them a must-have. Every time that Ina, the high-end Soho consignment store and dumping ground for celebrity once-worns, got any, they sold out quickly.
Now that Ford would be leaving after a scant decade spent making clothes, bound for destinations unknown (Versace? Hollywood?), Valenti’s jersey dresses would be in even greater demand. “Collecting Tom Ford had never been a focus before,” says Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor-at-large and a major collector of haute couture, “but I think it will now. It’s just a movement in the pattern of collecting—everyone’s focusing on recent, contemporary designers. Lots of the stylish girls who weren’t born in the seventies see this stuff as vintage. So now one of my few everlasting regrets in life is missing a sample sale in New York, because it’s such a finite period, isn’t it? It parallels Christian Dior’s span at Dior, which was also just a decade.” Bowles plans to explore downtown resale shops like Ina, Resurrection, and Tokio 7, where turnaround on recent fashion is brisk. And of course, a good dealer can always find what his client needs. And quick.
What Ford did for fashion, season after season, was constantly bring up sex—in-your-face, jutting-pelvic-bone sex—and remind everyone just how well it sells. He wasn’t subtle: When the fashion world did lady with structured handbags and tweedy pencil skirts, Ford shaved a tidy G into a model’s pubic hair for an ad campaign.
But his impact on the collectibles world comes from his skill as a marketer: Every season, Ford created an “It” piece, a must-have, a season-defining trend, photographed to death, knocked off ad nauseam. There were those jersey dresses in 1996, followed by beaded jeans, à la Sonny and Cher, that caused baby boomers to roll their eyes and their daughters to shell out four figures a pair. There were sheer, naughty baby-doll tops tucked into sleek leather stovepipe trousers, and mod minidresses made of dozens of soft, lilac squares of silk finished with rough luggage zippers, and $75 condom cases in swirling blue-green prints. Because the company had never had a significant ready-to-wear collection, the vocabulary was Ford’s alone.
When he took over at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in 2000, he was up against decades of iconic fashion moments. YSL collectibles were already hot commodities: A Le Smoking from 1966—the first haute couture collection to feature pants—can fetch around $5,000 at auction. It’s unlikely that Ford’s ruched-velvet tuxedos will ever reach such prices, but he did manage to create essential objects. There was a silk-charmeuse peasant blouse that was a little bit hippie, a little bit goth, and voluminous caftans inspired by Talitha Getty. But he really focused, at YSL, on accessories, as there was no great tradition to compete with. His signatures became roomy, horn-handled bags, like the much-promoted Mombasa, and endless iterations of thick-soled sandals introduced at a moment when the rest of the world was stuck on the stiletto. (Jemznjewels.com, an online resaler of designer accessories, does brisk business in YSL accessories.)
“I think his stuff will hold its own better than any other label in the contemporary resale market,” says Clair Watson, the director of couture at Doyle New York, the Upper East Side auction house. “The early years of this century are all about sex in the abstract, and Tom Ford mastered the ‘about to have sex’ look at Gucci and the mussed, smudged, post-sex look at Yves Saint Laurent.” And there was Ford himself: in his tailored jeans and jackets, charcoal stubble, and stiff white shirt unbuttoned to there, sipping a martini as he took a bow. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?
The resale-and-vintage market has never burned brighter, its flames stoked by two kinds of collectors: those who buy things they intend to wear and those who buy them to wrap carefully and store in a humidity-controlled box.