Todd Oldham, with Eve, his rescue dog, and his high/low collection of art. Photo: Emily Andrews for The New York Times.
Todd Oldham can recall the precise moment he lost interest in fashion. It was back in 1997, and he was working on an emerald green silk satin shift that Cindy Crawford would wear in his spring runway show. The dress looked sweet and simple, but its construction was anything but. With ribbon straps made in France and fabric woven in South Korea, the piece was silk-screened with a print of a cherry tree made by Mr. Oldham on acetate, over which the designer painted a spray of cherry blossoms that were embroidered with freshwater pearls back in Texas, where his clothes were put together in his family’s factory.
The whole endeavor, Mr. Oldham said, “involved so many countries and so much time and so much expense, I thought: ‘This is insane. What do I have rather than the bother to bother?’ It felt like maybe I should be doing something else with my time.”
With that, he closed up his wholesale collection business. Not that it was a surprise, exactly, that he would pull the plug at some point. The designer had always chafed at the primary engine of fashion, which is to render one’s product obsolete every six months. And he was making so many other things, so well: furniture, fabric and housewares; interiors and television shows and photographs and books.
As the host of Todd Time, a three-minute D.I.Y. session on MTV’s “House of Style,” he was also teaching a generation how to make just about anything, using flea market finds, perhaps a bit of rickrack, a glue gun, a stapler and a pair of sharp scissors. (He also occasionally dipped into fashion reporting, at one point interviewing a young up-and-coming designer by the name of John Galliano.)
“All I did was stop doing the one thing,” Mr. Oldham said, “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.”
Fashion is noisy, and Mr. Oldham had a lively run with it. His clothes were inspired by pot holders or wallpaper or kitschy paint-by-numbers paintings or garage sale treasures — toasters, gilded mirrors, loopy printed upholstery — all expressed in exuberant colors on cut velvet and silks, with trompe l’oeil effects that were the result of elaborate printing techniques, intricate beading, appliqués and embroidery.
His clothes were fun, but they were also beautiful, and his shows were like dance parties, packed with the coolest kids, both on the runway and in the audience: drag performers like Billy Beyond and RuPaul; old-fashioned supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell; and actors like Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell and Christian Slater. You might hear the theme song from “The Dating Game,” or 1970s-era curiosities, like War’s “Low Rider,” and the models didn’t stalk, stone-faced, down the runway. They skipped, jogged, shimmied and grinned, just as you did, watching them. It was a different era, to be sure.
(L) Fall 1994 Collection Todd Oldham Velvet Runway Dress available now at Shrimpton Couture. (M) Todd Oldham with Cindy Crawford at the conclusion of his fall 1994 show. Credit G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times. (R) Fall 1994 Rare Fully Beaded Todd Oldham Runway Gown available now at Shrimpton Couture.