For a 10 year period, between 1989 and 1999 Todd Oldham had a major fashion career. It’s all on view at the Rhode Island School of Design’s RISD Museum, in All of Everything, his first retrospective. To keep it interesting, Oldham, 54, styled the exhibit himself, mixing pieces from different collections to compose new looks.
Todd grew up in Texas (as did I) with a grandmother who had taught him how to sew. (and once dyed his hair pink) When Oldham was a teenager, his father, a computer programmer, moved the family to Tehran for four years, and they spent vacations traveling in exotic locales.
He finished high school back in Texas and moved to New York and after a failed attempt at working for Ralph Lauren, Oldham borrowed $100 from his parents to buy a bunch of white cotton jersey, which he dyed and made into his own a small fashion collection which he sold to Neiman Marcus. In 1989, he made his New York fashion debut.
“My ideas about never being fashionable worked out really well.“
His anti-fashion aesthetic also explains why this exhibit has such a relationship to the current spring collections, which were full of MAJOR ornamentation, that Oldham implemented two decades ago. In other words, fashion has finally caught up to and embraced the Oldham esthetic.
He created this zebra-striped dress in the 1990s with the help of the late tie-dye artist Helen Gist-Tselikidis, who became his collaborator after he discovered her selling her dyed t-shirts on Houston street. Their experimental processes like splattering dye, crush-printing and painting fabrics led to the blue and white zebra-striped dress.
“The light parts are pristine white, and other parts are a deep inky blue. It’s a technical marvel. I miss her. She was always up for an adventure.”
Oldham is still up for an adventure himself. He had specific ideas about how he wanted the RISD show to look.
“There’s a green hum in the air, and it almost feels like science fiction.”
Since leaving the fashion world, Todd has designed interiors and furniture and held creative roles for La-Z-Boy, Old Navy and Target. He has also authored several books and is a prolific photographer. (I hired him at YM when I was creative director there.) Recently, he created two lines of craft kits — Kid Made Modern and Hand Made Modern (for adults) and next year, he will shoot his first feature film, whose subject he is keeping under wraps.
“I had a really good life in fashion, and I was fortunate to have the freedom to stop when it was no longer in my heart. Looking back, the pieces are made more beautifully than I remembered. When you’re making things, you tend to focus on what’s wrong, because you have to fix it. I probably should have relaxed a little more.”
To me, he’s the poster boy for multiple careers. This life is too short to limit yourself to one. All of Everything is at RISD Museum in Providence, RI through September 11.