Born: Corpus Christi, Texas, 22 November 1961. Education: No formal training in design. Career: Worked in the alterations department, Polo/Ralph Lauren, Dallas, Texas, 1980; showed first collection, in Dallas, 1981; partner/designer, L-7 company, New York, incorporating Times 7 women's shirt collection, from 1988; reintroduced signature Todd Oldham collection with backing from Onward Kashiyama Company, 1989; introduced line of handbags, 1991; produced Todd Oldham patterns for Vogue Patterns, 1992; footwear line introduced, 1993; opened SoHo store with his father, Jack, 1994; signed on as creative consultant, Escada, 1995; began appearing on MTV's House of Style, 1995; directed first music video, 1997; designed complete renovations for The Hotel, Miami, 1999; published two books, 1997, 2000. Awards: Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis award, 1991; Dallas Fashion award, 1992; Fashion Excellence award, 1993. Address: 120 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10012, USA. Website: www.toddoldhamjeans.com.
Todd Oldham: Without Boundaries, New York, 1997.
Suits: The Clothes Make the Man, with Dave Hickey and Shaila Dewan, New York, 2000.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Robinson, Rob, "Todd Oldham," in Interview (New York), October 1982.
Morris, Bernadine, "Two Young Designers Decorate Their Clothes with Wit," in the New York Times, 27 November 1990.
Hochswender, Woody, "Flights of Fancy: Todd Oldham's Magic Carpet Ride," in the New York Times, 11 April 1991.
Darnton, Nina, "The New York Brat Pack," in Newsweek, 29 April 1991.
"Great Expectations," in WWD, 12 June 1991.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "The 3-Year Leap of Todd Oldham," in the New York Times, 29 December 1991.
Lender, Heidi, "Hot Toddy," in WWD, 8 May 1992.
Servin, Jim, "Todd Oldham: This Year's It," in the New York Times, 10 May 1992.
"Hot Designer: Todd Oldham," in Rolling Stone, 14 May 1992.
James, Laurie, "Hot on the Trail," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), August 1992.
Orlean, Susan, "Breaking Away," in Vogue (New York), September 1992.
Mower, Sarah, "How Does Todd Do It?" in Harper's Bazaar, December 1994.
Ferguson, Sarah, "Natural Force," in Elle (New York), March 1995.
Spindler, Amy M., "Oldham and Tyler Look Super," in WWD, 6 April 1995.
Ingrassia, Michelle, "All Todd, All the Time," in Newsweek, 12 June 1995.
Colman, David, "Fashioning a Collection," in ARTnews, September 1997.
Bussel, Abby, "Haute Hotel," in Interior Design, January 1999.
Wasserman, Ted, "Designer Oldham Aims Snappy Duds at Polaroid," in Brandweek, 25 October 1999.***
Todd Oldham's eclectic and electric fashion fuses a traditional avant-garde premise to an abiding love of the crafts. Acknowledging in Women's Wear Daily in 1992 that his "total hero" is Christian Lacroix, Oldham indicates his wild sense of rich pastiche and cultural mix. At the time of his show for fall 1991, Woody Hochswender of the New York Times wrote, "The young Texas-born designer is on his own strange trip, and Tuesday afternoon he whisked editors and buyers on a whirlwind round-the-world tour—by plane, flying carpet and Greyhound."
Oldham's irrepressibly mischievous design takes fashion very seriously, bringing to dress a range of visual references. In 1990, in a collection called Garage Sale, he showed a black satin suit embroidered with items that might be found at a garage sale, including a lamp with its electrical cord, a clock, and crossed knife and fork. For fall 1992, he showed a coy "Old Masters—New Mistress" skirt with a beaded Mona Lisa on the front and a Picasso on the back. In between, he showed a black silk shantung trouser suit with sequined and embroidered travel patches, African-inspired embroidered tops, and Lamontage (synthetic-fiber felting) designs akin to Byzantine mosaics.
His vernacular references have strayed to the backyard for a 1991 hammock dress and to the kitchen for what he described to People magazine as "embroidered shirts that look like they've been iced by cake decorators" and his memorable "potholder suits" with pockets resembling the potholders of elementary crafts. In such gestures, Oldham gives literal meaning to "everything but the kitchen sink," but never with desperation, only with a charming surrealism. Another art-for-art's sake suit for 1990 used the motif of paint-by-numbers for its beaded pockets. Oldham's ever-present sense of ornament is not, however, for resplendence alone (although the decoration plays an undeniable role) but for its contribution to the narrative, the ironic information dispatched in each garment.
Oldham disavows kitsch, an almost inescapable epithet for his idiosyncratic talent, but his enthusiasm for naive crafts and his juxtapositions of good and highly uncertain taste encourage the description, however inadequate. Kitsch implies, however, no intervention or interpretation, only laconic appropriation. Oldham's aesthetic power is a willful perversity, a zest for twisting and changing the original source, whether kitsch or Mediterranean mosaic. His buttons are curious and quirky; his well-tailored suits are saved from conformity by their odd pockets; and his canny knowledge of fashion sources is saved from being scholastic by his whimsical juxtapositions.
For all of its personal taste, Oldham's fashion extends the tradition of Schiaparelli in its bold thematic development, delicate equilibrium between propriety and aesthetic anarchy, overt decoration, and annexation of related arts (including theater, film, and such street-inspired elements as using drag queen Billy Erb and the rock group B-52's Kate Pierson in his catwalk shows). Oldham's 1992 mirror dress pursued a Schiaparelli ideal, as does his preoccupation with the unexpected and seemingly autonomous pockets of suits.
Big-city, high-style savoir faire is key to Oldham's chic tongue in cheek, as it was for Schiaparelli. But Oldham's Texas roots and his family-based manufacturing give the work roots in the American Midwest as well as in the dry wit of capital cities. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1961, Oldham began his fashion business 20 years later, following a brief stint in alterations at the Polo/Ralph Lauren boutique in Dallas. He moved to New York in 1988 and started the women's shirt collections Times 7 at the time.
Spring 1992 headlines for Oldham as "Hot Toddy" in Women's Wear Daily (8 May 1992) and the "It" guy according to the New York Times (10 May 1992) might be the kiss of death for some designers, but Oldham possesses the characteristics of lasting, needed style, however outré or idiosyncratic it may seem. His persistent technical investigation—he was, for example, unique in experimenting with Lamontage as an apparel fabric—gives added meaning to his comment in the New York Times in 1991: "I haven't had any formal training, but that's worked to my advantage. People don't know what to expect." If cool whimsy is ever unexpected, so is the technology of the clothing endemic to Oldham's interest in the crafts. Likewise, his keen interest and perceptions in contemporary culture, beyond fashion, have provided him with a wealth of images for the work.
Oldham's aesthetic is bold and self-assured but far less transitory than it might initially seem. Oldham's creativity is in tune with fashion's constant striving to achieve ironic involvement in matters outside of dress and attempts, with irony, to understand the phenomena of clothing and contemporary life. A good example of his appeal was "Todd Time," irreverently goofy monthly segments filmed for MTV's House of Style, seen by nearly five million teens and young adults around the world. This exposure in turn led to Oldham directing a music video for jazzy hip-hop trio, US3.
In the late 1990s Oldham continued to branch out, this time in writing, with a book entitled Todd Oldham: Without Boundaries and into interior design by remodeling The Hotel, located on Miami's South Beach. The Hotel, formerly known as the Tiffany, is an old landmark given a glam new transformation thanks to Oldham. Glowing in chrome, blues, greens, and beiges, Oldham found the experience fun but not really challenging. He told Abby Bussel of Interior Design in January 1999, "I've been putting things on people for years, so putting things under people was no big deal." Everything used in renovation, including the furniture, tile, cabinetry, linens, and even bathrobes, were produced in Oldham's factory, which is overseen by his brother, Brad (Oldham also employs his father, mother, grandmother, and sister).
Of Oldham's literary career, Todd Oldham: Without Boundaries featured many of today's top fashion photographers capturing some of the world's most famous personalities—all wearing Oldham designs. His next book, Suits: The Clothes Make the Man, is an often hilarious account of two artists who spent a year touring the country wearing Oldham-designed suits. On the suits, they sold advertising space to fifty-six companies. The story is told through interviews, photos, and firsthand accounts.
Miles Socha, in an article in Women's Wear Daily, quoted Oldham from a speech he gave at Career Day at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Oldham talked of his decision to close the collection part of his business and focus on his line of Todd Oldham Jeans. "I elected to stop wholesaling my collection line because my heart wasn't in it anymore. I just didn't want to be part of $1200 blouses…. It was just not modern anymore." Oldham urged students to discover their own path. "The one thing we can really count on is change," he said. Oldham also told the students to "cultivate freethinking" and to be "singular in your vision," about what the market wants.
updated by Andrew Cunningham