An Interview with Todd Oldham

An Interview with Todd Oldham

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Maxwell Ryan
Nov 21, 2012

What: Apartment Therapy Design Evenings
Who: Todd Oldham
When: November 8
Where: ABC Carpet & Home

It was a packed house when featured guest, designer Todd Oldham, joined us for our recent Design Evening. See the full evening's transcript and video below, and come join us for our next Design Evening in December!

We continued our reader presentations this month with two renovations that are both entirely from Ikea. Check out Christina's rental studio makeover, as well as Ian's Ikea Kitchen remodel.

Maxwell Ryan

Welcome back to our 62nd Design Evening. Thanks to ABC! Since we moved here a few years ago our crowds have gotten bigger and rowdier, which is good. I'm glad that we're all here and you're surrounded by beautiful things.

I also want to thank Pasanella & Son who is our wine Sponsor tonight. Their shop down in the South Street Seaport was buried under six feet of water (from the hurricane). They're a great wine store. Definitely visit them in the South Street Seaport.

A quick bit of news tonight. We've got a Holiday Giveaway that kicks off on Wednesday, November 14th. We have two design items a day that we give away for a month. This year we actually have a little leverage so we're giving away sofas. We're giving away refrigerators. All sorts of things. That starts Wednesday the 14th. We're saving the world one "thing" at a time.

I also want to celebrate our new traffic goal. Thanks to all of you in October we've passed 11 million monthly readers. We were on a four year mission to reach 10 million. We got there two years early. So thank you.

We also finished last week our 2012 Room For Color contest. We do it once a year. We have people submit from all over the world the most beautiful colorful rooms in their homes. Our winner this year was Kellie from Marina Del Ray, Callfornia. She beat out 120 entries. The runners up were from Centerville, Ohio, Kansas City and Chicago. The other three runners up were all blue. And she, as you can see is red. So if you're thinking about what the trends are, it is that things are getting brighter and bolder. A couple of years ago orange was popular and lime green. Now it's red. And, in the international division, same thing again. Bright red. Jane from Low Bentham, England is our winner and she beat out 27 entries. If you have friends who live outside of the U.S. please tell them about this. We'd love to have more international people. We can't give out prizes to people outside the U.S. for tax reasons but we'd love to have them.

MG-R:
It is my great pleasure tonight to introduce someone who I've been wanting to meet for a long time and who I'm not going to have enough time to talk to tonight because he is so complicated and he's done so many things. So I should just get started. Todd Oldham is a well-known designer whose career spans more than 20 years and is the founder of Todd Oldham Studios, a multifaceted design studio based here in New York. He first launched his first clothing line in 1989 and won the Council of Fashion Designer Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent in 1991. He served as creative consultant to Escada in the late 90s', launched a perfume line in '95 and designed clothing for Target in 2002/2003. In '95, he produced a clothing line associated with the Warner Bros film, Batman Forever. From 2003-2007 he designed furniture and home accessories for La-Z-Boy, which is when I first got to know him. He also served as creative director for Old Navy. He's become wildly known to American TV audiences through his many television appearances, most notably as host of Todd Time on MTV's House of Style in the 90's, which has just come back again and had an episode last week for Halloween. He hosted Fashionably Loud on MTV in '99 and recently served as a mentor to contestants on Bravo's Top Design. He's currently working on his 19th book, Charley Harper's Animal Kingdom. And more recently Todd debuted a collection of art supplies for kids - books and events called, Kid Made Modern, in Target. Please welcome Todd Oldham.

MG-R:
Your resume goes in so many directions and it's so long. First, did you grow up in Corpus Christi, Texas?

Todd:
Not really grew up. I was born there. My parents were kind of traveling around and I popped right out in Corpus Christi along the way. So we were there for a very brief time.

MG-R:
How did you get to New York? Why did you come and what was first thing you did?

Todd:
I was living in Dallas at the time. It was a really fun community and a really fun time. Then this sort of financial collapse happened in the 80s.

MG-R:
In '87?

Todd:
Yes, exactly so everyone had to skedaddle. It was no longer a place for creative folks. So I started coming back and forth to New York in the 80s and then moved here full time.

MG-R:
When you moved here full-time what did you do? Fashion was what brought you here?

Todd:
Yes, I'd been focusing pretty heavy on fashion. I sort of came to it like...you know how when you do things that you don't have any explanation for why you do? That was my entire fashion career. I had a very easy hand at making patterns. I really had no idea how I knew how to do it, but it was something that came very easily and moved very quickly for me.

MG-R:
Were you making clothes in Dallas?

Todd:
Yes I set up the factory there because we were doing very complex things and there weren't really people there that had a couture approach to clothing. Our clothes were all handmade and unfortunately ungodly expensive. You had to create an environment and a team to create those sort of things.

MG-R:
It says in Wikipedia that you bought a long bolt of cotton fabric and made a collection out of that bolt and sold it to Neiman Marcus?

Todd:
That's true. It was a cotton interlock, which at the time only came in beige and white. My grandmother had encountered this drugstore that was going out of business and bought this huge box of dye so I dyed everything. My mom had made all her clothing herself so I learned how to sew when I was nine. And we dyed everything in the bathtub.

MG-R:
So you make clothes and just like that you got yourself fully employed in New York City. How did you do that? So many people come here and they get tossed out again.

Todd:
New York kicks your ass but that's part of the welcoming committee. So once you get used to that and embrace it, it will all work out fine. I realized very very early on that I was unemployable and it made Me very happy. It's still a motive that I have today and with that in mind you can do whatever you want.

MG-R:
Because you're basically unemployable and no one will have you? But Ralph Lauren had you.

Todd:
Yes for three months in alterations before I was fired. It was a wonderful experience. It helped me crystallize all the instincts and things I kind of knew inherently, but having the opportunity to take apart his clothes was great. At the time I think I had green hair and would roller skate to work. They'd hide me in the back I was forbidden to use the front door. They did not allow me to go and pin anything. But I was really good at sewing so it was really terrific. But I just didn't work with too many folks. I didn't really have time for that job after very short time.

MG-R:
If you got fired from that how did you become the director for Escada?

Todd:
Oh that was just a creative director role. It wasn't that hard of a job to get. It was a pretty crappy company. But I liked the people and I thought I could make it less crappy.

MG-R:
You were in fashion for a long time. When I first heard of you I thought you were a furniture designer, so it was a surprise to discover that fashion was really how you made your career.

Todd:
I made a lot of noise in fashion.

MG-R:
What was the most noise you made? What were you most proud of?

Todd:
I'm proud of everything I did in fashion. I had a really good time doing it, but I think one of the most proud things when I look back is that I had the good graces to stop when I had nothing else to say. I take my efforts very seriously and I don't want to involve other people in my follies that I don't need. So I stopped when I really thought that I had expressed myself fully. I've always had a computer-oriented brain. I can create things very easily and see them 360 in my head. So fashion I could work out in my head and there was no reason to get it out. I just didn't want to take up anyone else's time with more.

MG-R:
You didn't want to make more clothes even though you can see it and do it?

Todd:
I had always made everything and up until then I felt I had something to say and it was meaningful and had duality and juxtaposition, new inspirations of technique, just lots of new. I had to constantly find a new way to do something and I mean, who needs another $10,000 dress? And I made lots of them.

MG-R:
So newness led you out of fashion and into furnishings and other areas. I know where you are now but what about that middle step between the green hair and where you are?

Todd:
I was doing lots of things simultaneously so to leave, the mediums had just changed in front of me. They kind of don't change they just drift in and out. I have the same approach to any project I do. I'm a very sensitive and empathetic designer so I like to do what I do very well and try to bring joy to myself through the process and bring joy to others through the outcome. If you have that as a motive, that's a very easy thing to transition between.

MG-R:
Did you find furnishings like La-Z-Boy or did they find you?

Todd:
That was an interesting project. I liked those folks. We did a charity fundraiser together. They asked about 10 designers to do ottomans. So we did this ottoman. I think I was the only designer that didn't torture them. They asked me would you be interested in coming to talk to us. They were really fun to work with so we did the collection for four years. They're a unique business model. I joined them when they were trying to move into the future a little bit and we helped drag them a little bit forward. This is situation with a lot of big companies. They have sort of complex distribution systems that aren't really very healthy. And that was sort of the hiccup. I really enjoyed my time with them. I think they did a really nice job with making my furniture.

MG-R:
It was great. I remember they had a retail store in Soho. I thought, La-Z-Boy is really changing. They're doing something different. They're tag line was "We're not your father's La-Z-Boy".

Todd:
But there was nothing wrong with that. I was always baffled by that. What's wrong with your Father's chair? Like a lot of people—it was hard for them to see the forest through the trees. They felt the need to change. How many La-Z-Boy butts of jokes have you heard? But there's a lot of goodwill for it even though they'd been taking it on the chin. It was an interesting partnership. I liked that it was a little bit cheeky. It kind of cracked me up and they're very sweet.

MG-R:
Television. So you talk about making things. You talk about seeing things in your head 360. Clothes. Design. When you're going in front of the television audience you're doing things totally different or are you?

Todd:
You're expressing differently. There are different tenets to be a success in that. But I like communicating; I really am very thirsty for information. That's never abandoned me since I was very young person. I'm just hungry all the time for any information.

MG-R:
Information...like how things are made?

Todd:
Oh yeah. I'm very fascinated with art. I love construction. I love science and all of it kind of blends together. I just like learning. I'm really keen on learning. That has never subsided in me.

MG-R:
House of Style, which I saw a bit of the Halloween one - from 90s - what was it then and is it the same thing now?

Todd:
House of Style was an interesting show. Cindy Crawford was the host and I did this goofy section called Todd Time. It was really a blast and I got to do it for 4 years. But what I loved about it was that I got handed a flashlight from MTV who said shine this on anything that interests you. The Producers at MTV were really great. It was all about—let's try and figure out how we can celebrate style without the kind of bullshit that makes it a drag, like it has to do with money, which is completely wrong. And lets show all this great stuff we like and see all these underground people who we were hanging out with in the East Village. Let's support them. It was a blast. It was so much fun.

MG-R:
It was sort of like a behind the curtain scenario a little bit?

Todd:
Yeah. It wasn't even like a curtain wasn't there. It was like another island. It was a way to expose something else that wasn't in any way out there. It was really fun to do for four years. But TV is really quite grueling.

MG-R:
That is a long time.

Todd:
And I produced, cut and edited all my own. We'd literally get told you've got four minutes. What are you going to do—and I would turn in my tape literally right before it aired and that's what aired. Clearly not the same now. Thank God. Here it is we're almost 20 years after that first House of Style that's come back on they asked me to join them. I was very happy to sign back up. This new team thinks exactly like we did the first time, which is that style has nothing to do with money. We have two great new hosts models, Karlie Kloss and Joan Smalls. I'm having a really nice time. My first segment re-debuted last week and I'm heading on Monday to do a piece on the LA art scene.