When Pinault came out the victor, De Sole was made president and CEO of the Gucci Group (now Kering), which went on to acquire Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney before De Sole and Ford exited together in 2004, with the designer taking his final bow under a shower of rose petals. A year later, they founded the Tom Ford brand, launching beauty and eyewear, followed by men’s and womenswear, becoming one of the biggest success stories of 21st-century American fashion. For his first-ever women’s collection for spring 2011, Ford enlisted Beyoncé, Julianne Moore, and Lauren Hutton to walk the runway and didn’t let a single outlet take pictures. It was the most talked-about show of the season.
If ours is not an era of top designers putting their own names on labels, that’s partly because of the globe-spanning conglomerates that rule the industry. But De Sole downplays the relevance of the huge groups, even as he acknowledges that he helped build one. “I’m a true believer that in business, there is always room for talent and competence. Brunello Cucinelli, for example, did not exist, really, 20 years ago, or at least not at the size it is today. If you have discipline and a willingness to work, there’s always room for new plays.”