Designer Todd Oldham has a new fashion project: creative director for Old Navy. Oldham’s been doing all kinds of things for years, ranging from costume design to floral design to home furnishings design. But whenever I see his name, I get nostalgic for his supermodel-filled runway shows in the ’90s. I feel the same nostalgia for Isaac Mizrahi (now known primarily for TV and Target). And I really miss Christian Francis Roth (now doing juniors clothing, from what I can tell).
Photo from the Museum at FIT
Christian Francis Roth was the Zac Posen of his day, presenting his first collection in 1990 when he was barely drinking age. He became famous for his cheerful appliqued pieces, including a dress that looked like a box of Crayola crayons (yes, the crayon people sued) and the “breakfast suit,” which had a big fabric sunny-side-up egg on it.
Roth closed his couture business in 1995. Mizrahi’s financial backer, Chanel, shut him down in 1998. Oldham closed his women’s business the same year.
Photo from Vintage Textile
This brings up an issue that people frequently ask me about: fashion versus commerce. Some people (both in the fashion industry and outside of it) can’t bear the idea of “selling out.” I agree with them to a certain extent. If you care about your work, you have to create pieces that appeal to your own sense of style. It would be hard for me to sell jewelry I would never wear myself. But the key word here is “sell.” You DO have to sell, or you’ll just be a pleasant memory — until the next generation comes up and doesn’t know about you at all. (How many of you know the name Miguel Adrover?)
You can be as snooty as you please if you have a conglomerate like LVMH paying the bills. Marc Jacobs is financed by LVMH, and honey, those first two letters stand for Louis Vuitton. Marc makes so much money at Vuitton that he was able to wangle big bucks to support his self-named collection. A few years ago, he was also able to throw some work to Stephen Sprouse, the ’80s designer who managed to go out of business more than once.
Photo from Style.com
Theyskens was adored by the fashion editors and seen on all the “right” people (a list that apparently didn’t include the rather fashionable Keira Knightley), but that didn’t keep him employed. A couple of years ago, Isaac Mizrahi reminisced about similar feelings during the height of his popularity. As he told my friend Teri Agins of The Wall Street Journal, “‘I used to think my job was about coming up with a new, bold, crazy look every six months, making something fabulous and pretty for my friends and the models.'” Many years later, having made a comeback at Target, his attitude had changed: “‘You’re not selling out, you’re reaching out,'” he told Teri.
Of course, super-artistic people don’t start designing clothes because they’re dying to be at Target. And money isn’t everything, but do you really want to give up your dream job because you’re too precious to see the pop star du jour wearing your clothes? As Christian Francis Roth told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “‘Not that money has ever been my motivation to do what I do, but there comes a time [when] you make a career on what has been a successful craft for you.” British designer Christopher Kane recently lucked out and had the best of both worlds: He refused to lend a dress to Victoria Beckham and she bought it, so he got prestige, press and payment all at once.
Kane didn’t seem that thrilled with this outcome, but I would dance with joy if Victoria bought one of my pieces. I wouldn’t even ask her to return my 1995 hairdo. She’s working it. Posh, call me!
If you want to get a taste of the good old days when designers thought money didn’t matter and models were glamazons who didn’t appear to need life support, you must see Isaac Mizrahi and the superest supermodels of all time in Unzipped. Enjoy!
UPDATED TO ADD: It can be difficult to find any photos of vintage Oldham, Mizrahi and Roth online, but sometimes eBay pays off. There’s a bottle-cap jacket by Roth up for auction this week!
Photo from Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
And here’s an ornate, beaded Oldham skirt.
This eBay seller has an amazing selection of designer clothes.