Excerpt: 'Tom Ford'

Tom can't help being sexy. Add to this his incredible eye and one begins to understand why Gucci exploded in the past ten years, becoming the success story of modern fashion. Think about the culture of sleek, sexy excess of the nineties and Gucci clothes come to mind. Necklines that could hardly get lower, heels that couldn't get any higher, enormous logos. No designer of our time has done over-the-top glamour so boldly and brazenly. Which brings us to the inevitable association with celebrities. It's hard to think of a beautiful actress who hasn't shimmered across an awards stage in his clothes. Throughout the nineties and into the next decade, on any given red carpet, there was a parade of stars doing the full "Gucc," as they say: Madonna in the unbuttoned satin blouse, Gwenyth Paltrow in the red velvet tuxedo.

By now, a young designer swooping in to re-energize a mumsy old fashion label has become an almost predictable business model. It wouldn't have happened without Ford. In the 1960s and 1970s, Gucci had been the pinnacle of chic, thanks to icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jacqueline Onassis. But by the 1980s, Gucci had lost its appeal, becoming a tacky airport brand, and was in deep financial straits. In October 1990 this cool, somewhat snobbish 29-year-old from Texas and New Mexico, who'd been wearing Gucci loafers since he was 13, arrived. For four years, Tom slogged away in the boiler room, creating major items that gradually raised Gucci from the dead, but never getting the credit. Cut to the fall of 1995 and a certain high-voltage collection (one all about plunging necklines and hip-hugging pants) that announced grunge was done, and fabulous was in. Fashion people, being the excitable creatures they are, went ape. Suddenly, Ford had Gucci CEO Domenico De Sole asking him to name his price. He did. And they became partners.

The growth curve at Gucci was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. By the late nineties the lines at the stores went out the door. The fashion "waiting list" was born. In early 1999, Gucci found itself at the center of a dramatic and unprecedented $8.7 billion showdown between two worthy opponents: luxury-goods titan Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, and Francois Pinault, one of France's richest men. After months of frantic late-night phone calls, emergency meetings, hissy-fits and courtroom antics, Ford and De Sole went with Pinault's company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.

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