I’ve been wondering what 1990s fashion designer Todd Oldham has been doing since 2009, when a short gig as creative director of Old Navy came to an end.
Todd was always a favorite of mine. He was one of the young stars of the exuberant New York fashion scene of the early to mid-90s. Guy Trebay wrote about the atmosphere for a New York Times story published this September 8, accurately titled “When Fashion Shows Were Fun.” Trebay described how the “madcap creativity” of the era contrasts with the industry today:
“The world of fashion — so corporatized now, the subject itself globally dispersed as a form of wordless entertainment — was fairly small in the ’90s. It was tribal. There were tyrants and divas and outsize personalities, as there still are, but also mentors and connectors and facilitators motivated as much by the joy of discovering talent and creating beauty as by that menace of the corporate age: personal brand-building.”
Trebay spoke to Todd for his story. “We were so lucky,” Todd told him. Trebay wrote:
“Show soundtracks then were often as much a surprise as the clothes themselves. The first time anyone ever heard RuPaul’s ‘Supermodel of the World’ was on a Todd Oldham runway. That was about a million drag races ago. Celebrities used to fill the front rows not because they had been paid to but because they were actually excited to see what designers had up their sleeves. ‘Remember when people at shows used to clap when they liked something?’ Mr. Oldham asked. ‘Remember that?'”
That made me want to know more about Todd and, lo and behold, last Sunday the Times came through, following up the Trebay story with Penelope Green’s profile of Oldham called “Todd Oldham’s Life After Fashion.”
It turns out that Todd, now 53, has been a busy bee. Even during his fashion days, as Green points out, he was also creating furniture, fabric, housewares, interiors, television shows, photographs and books. “Todd can design a whole world,” was one comment made about Oldham in 1995. When Todd lost interest in his clothing line in 1997, he went on to tweak furniture for La-Z-Boy; make products for FTD and Fishs Eddy; and produce 21 books. (That’s in addition to his time at Old Navy.) Currently, his DIY craft kits and supplies are sold at Target; they will be picked up by a number of museums by the end of the year. Clearly he didn’t quit design at all — just the fashion part of design. But fans like me still felt that he had vanished, and he explained that to Green:
“All I did was stop doing the one thing and the one thing was real loud, so it looked different on the outside than it did to me. Fashion is very noisy, and it kind of sticks with people in funny ways, considering it’s this ephemeral thing we often just toss under the bed or in the dryer.”
(That reminded me of my recent conversation with founding N.W.A member Arabian Prince. As Arabian pointed out, stepping away from a job that brings fame doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of personal satisfaction or even finances.)
More good news: Todd kept a “meticulous” archive. “We never had a sample sale,” he told the Times, to my initial befuddlement. Back in the day, I bought all my Todd clothes at “sample sales,” but, looking back, I suppose those were really inventory sales (as a large number of “sample sales” are) rather than a sale of original runway samples. Anyway, Todd has the goods for a retrospective of his clothing designs, set to be shown at RISD’s museum in April. That exhibit is going to be a must-see for me … and I just emailed RISD in case Todd’s missing something that he’d like to borrow from my personal Oldham collection.
“I thought I was done with clothes, so to revisit them has been a joy,” Todd told the Times. “It wasn’t melancholy at all. They were made much more beautifully than I remember. All you remember at the time is what went wrong.”
Aw, Todd! Of course, your stuff was great!
The Oldham profile also has some vivid quotes about the same ’90s New York fashion scene that was described by Trebay’s earlier story. If you were part of that era, you’ll want to read the Trebay story followed by the Oldham profile so you can reminisce. If you didn’t get to experience it yourself, you should still read the stories in that order so you can see what you missed. Try not to be too jealous!
- “When Fashion Was Fun” by Guy Trebay
- “Todd Oldham’s Life After Fashion” by Penelope Green