Estée Lauder Agrees to Buy Tom Ford Brand

Zegna, with a license to produce and distribute Tom Ford men’s wear since 2006, will now become Estée Lauder’s sole licenser for Tom Ford men’s and women’s wear, with responsibilities for its stores and shows and for ensuring the brand remains a luxury product and continues to cast the sort of runway-associated halo that sells beauty products. Though a relatively small part of the brand’s portfolio, the brand’s fashion collections still receive outsize attention thanks to Mr. Ford’s name, reputation and celebrity connections. (He always dresses a host of boldface names on Oscar night.)

Adding Tom Ford will bring another frisson of cool to the Zegna group, which began expanding in 2018 with the acquisition of another buzzy independent American brand, Thom Browne.

Whether the Tom Ford business can stay as buzzy without Mr. Ford himself as the wizard behind the curtain is another question.

The famously stubbled Mr. Ford ultimately became as much a celebrity as the celebrities he dressed. He was transformed into a fashion star seemingly overnight in 1995 when, as the unknown designer at the helm of the moribund house of Gucci, he reinvented the brand with a fall/winter collection that included a healthy splash of sex mixed with just the right amount of irony and a dash of heritage.

Along with the then-chief executive Domenico De Sole, he made Gucci into the case study for brand turnarounds in both Milan and Paris, eventually attracting the attention of Bernard Arnault, who was busy building his group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton into a luxury behemoth.

Leery of ceding power to LVMH, Mr. Ford and Mr. De Sole appealed to a rival French tycoon, François Pinault of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, who swooped in as their white knight, creating Gucci Group in a deal that would shape the modern luxury industry. Gucci Group eventually was absorbed into PPR, which became Kering — the owner of Gucci, YSL and Balenciaga, among other brands, and the main rival of LVMH.

Mr. Ford wasn’t part of it, however. In 2004, after a power struggle with PPR, he and Mr. De Sole left the company they had built. Starting the next year they introduced the eponymous fragrance Tom Ford, then an eyewear line, and then signed a deal with Zegna to produce Tom Ford men’s wear; Tom Ford women’s wear was introduced in 2010. Along the way, Mr. Ford also pursued a second career as a film director and writer, making a well-received debut in 2009 with “A Single Man.”

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