Todd Oldham's (b. 1961) designs were anything but basic. Instead of tasteful button down shirts or quiet business suits, Oldham offered eclectic ornamentation and an exuberant, catch-all approach to inspiration. During one of Oldham's first shows, highlights included an "interesting but unwearable" vest made from wire, a patchwork suit made from thin strips of cork, and a suit with pockets beaded in the style of paint-by-numbers paintings.1
Oldham's imaginative approach to fashion caught the zeitgeist of the early 1990s. In 1991, only two years after introducing his signature line, Oldham was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis award, an award given annually to emerging designers.2 By 1993, getting into a Todd Oldham fashion show was "as frenetic as getting into a rock concert" with a line of "ticketless hopefuls" stretching round the block. 3 Before it was common to feature non-models in runway shows, Oldham populated his runway with off-beat style icons like Kate Pierson of the B-52's and drag performer Billy Beyond. Oldham's fans and clients included Susan Sarandon, Blaine Trump, Quentin Crisp, Queen Latifah, and Ru Paul.
Oldham's designs were often labeled "kitschy," probably because of their tongue-in-cheek visual references. Oldham's 1991 "Garage Sale" collection featured a suit embroidered with items often found at garage sales, including silverware and a clock. The "Dating Game" used images taken from tourist postcards as beaded embellishment on a suit jacket. Oldham frequently incorporated handmade elements into his collections. One collection featured hand-crocheted skirts and sweaters, and many of his designs featured buttons hand-made by Oldham's brother Brad. Patchwork was another favorite element, used by Oldham to create skirts, suits, and the vest pictured here. Despite a riot of clashing patterns and colors, the tailored vest somehow forms a coherent whole. The unusual buttons are an Oldham trademark.
Though Oldham closed his company in 1998, his creative explorations didn't end. Since 1998, Oldham has designed a Florida hotel, published several design-oriented books, produced a capsule collection for Target, and published numerous articles and interviews. In this early 90s segment from House of Style, a patchwork-clad Todd Oldham discusses his design process, and then scours a New York City fleamarket for pieces of furniture to refurbish.
1 Hochswender, Woody "With Nods to Rome, the Renaissance and the 60's." The New York Times. 7 Apr 1990: 31.
2 The Perry Ellis Award is now called the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent.
3 Schiro, Anne-Marie. "Loud? Flamboyant? It's Oldham's Way." The New York Times 4 Nov. 1993: C12.