How Tom Ford changed the beauty industry

As Tom Ford steps down from his eponymous beauty brand, we pay tribute to his contribution to the industry

Max Motta and Mariana Braga, shot by Tom Ford for the 2011 ‘Neroli Portofino’ campaign,
Max Motta and Mariana Braga, shot by Tom Ford for the 2011 ‘Neroli Portofino’ campaign, as featured in Tom Ford 002 ($135, published by Rizzoli). An homage to the Italian Riviera, the unisex eau de parfum, £230 for 100ml, has top notes of Italian bergamot, winter yellow mandarin and Sicilian lemon.
(Image credit: Tom Ford)

Tom Ford – featured in the Wallpaper* USA 300 – revolutionised fashion with his glamorously sexy A/W96 collection for Gucci. Ten years later, he did the same for beauty, launching his eponymous brand one year after leaving the Italian fashion house.

Now, Ford is stepping down from the brand, with his longtime colleague Peter Hawkings announced as its new creative director.

Ford aimed high from the get-go and, by 2014, he had built his beauty brand (not including his label’s fashion divisions) into a multi-million-dollar behemoth. And while his assertion then that he wanted to build it into a $3bn business might have seemed a reach too high, it turns out he was right on the money: last year, Estée Lauder made one of the biggest acquisitions in industry history by purchasing Tom Ford for $2.8bn.

As with fashion, the key to Ford’s success in beauty was his ability to make a relatively rigid and tired industry sexy again. As journalist Bridget Foley writes in her seminal book Tom Ford, ‘Ford’s greatest achievement is that... he fulfilled a basic goal, the one that had drawn him to fashion in the first place: to make women and men look beautiful.’

His first launch under his own name was ‘Black Orchid’, a now iconic fragrance made from one of the darkest, most elusive flowers on earth. He then moved into cosmetics with lipsticks – still the bedrock of Tom Ford make-up – charging a then nearly unheard of $50 for a single shade and dubbing them with names such as ‘Crush’ and ‘Ensnare’.

Eroticism has always been inherent to Tom Ford Beauty, as has a playfulness around notions of femininity and masculinity, whether it’s in a range of primarily unisex fragrances (a trend Ford could be credited with starting) or a range of lipsticks named after the men in his life. Ford has always had a preternatural ability to give people what they want even before they knew they wanted it, and it is this that makes him a true pioneer of 21st-century luxury in beauty and beyond.

This article appears in the August 2023 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Writer and Wallpaper* Contributing Editor

Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.