Birthplace: Corpus Christi, Texas
Awards: Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis Award, 1991 Crystal Apple Award, AIDS Project Los Angeles Fund-raiser, 1996
As a child, Todd Oldham had the opportunity to express his creativity through sewing and painting. Oldham's desire for sewing clothing came from his grandmother, Mildred Jasper, who taught Oldham how to sew at the age of nine. By the time he was fifteen, Oldham was creating clothes for his sister, Robin. In 1980, after high school, Oldham took an alterations position at a Ralph Lauren Polo shop which allowed him to increase his knowledge of garment construction. A year later, he was inspired to take his talent further, and he began experimenting with manipulating and dying fabric. Anxious to begin his career, he asked his parents for $100 to buy fabric to create a line of dyed silk t-shirts and skirts, which he then sold to Neiman Marcus.
This initial success prompted Oldham to move to New York in 1988 to start his new company, L-7, with partner Tony Longoria. The L-7 company structure was different from most design firms. It was run by Oldham's mother, Linda, his grandmother, Mildred Jasper, his brother, Brad, and his sister, Robin. The new company produced Times 7, a contemporary-priced shirt line, Oldham's signature line, and private-label products. The Times 7 lines consisted of avant-garde clothing centered around themes such as a "Garage Sale" or "Old Master's-New Mistress" with fabric embellishments of paint, beads, buttons, and embroidery. In the early 1990s funding from Onward Kashiyama allowed Oldham to produce and distribute a more substantial line, including a women's separates line.
In 1991 Oldham expanded his business into accessories, adding a line of handbags through a licensing agreement with Carlos Falchi. Nontraditional materials such as Lamontage (a felted synthetic fiber), glass, and marble were combined using unique construction techniques. Another unexpected addition to his business in the early nineties was a button line, which combined novelty designs with unique materials resulting in Swarovski crystal bugs, hand-lacquered fruits and vegetables, and Oldham's fingerprints imprinted on a hand-wrought metallic button. The button line was manufactured by Streamline Industries, Inc., for the home sewing market. Oldham also signed a licensing agreement with Vogue Patterns to produce a pattern for his oversized novelty button shirt from his Times 7 line.
The mid-1990s continued to be a period of great success for Oldham. He developed a moderately priced shoe line, manufactured by Lerre and shown by Bucci Footwear; introduced a fragrance, produced by Parlux; and even entered the home furnishings market. Oldham's most exciting accomplishment, however, came through the MTV network. Oldham, along with two other designers, Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi, participated in a new marketing concept sponsored by the MTV network. Old-ham offered an exclusive clothing line targeted to the teen and college markets on The Goods on MTV and VH1. He also had Todd Time, a five-minute home-decorating advice segment on MTV's House of Style with Cindy Crawford, and his home furnishing and kitchenware lines were featured on Nick at Night. Oldham became one of the first designers to participate in the fledging home-shopping industry.
Oldham was presented with another unique opportunity in 1994. He was offered a three-year contract as a creative consultant with Escada for the Escada Margaretha Ley and Escada Couture collections. The position presented Oldham with a new challenge as a designer: not only would he have to work with a design team to select silhouettes, colors, and patterns for the line, but his designs traditionally targeted a younger customer than Escada's. Oldham rose to the challenge and was able to give Escada a fresh new look which incorporated his mastery of fabric embellishing and finishing. Despite this success, Escada decided to limit the launch of his spring 1998 bridge label, Todd Oldham Apriori, to the European market only. However, Oldham was asked to sign another three-year contract, with Es-cada USA as a general consultant to provide insight into trends in the U.S. market.
The most significant expansions to Oldham's business came in 1995. First, he signed a licensing agreement with Nikon, Inc., to produce a line of eyewear to be sold in Oldham boutiques, department stores, and specialty stores. Next, he was approached by Warner Bros. Studio to produce a Batman Forever collection of apparel and accessories. Oldham was only the second person ever chosen to design limited-edition film merchandise for Warner Bros. Studio. Finally, Oldham signed a licensing agreement with Sun Apparel to produce his men's and women's denim line. The line would be targeted to his young audience through the segment on MTV.
In a surprising move in 1998, Oldham discontinued wholesaling his Times 7 line, deciding to produce the line exclusively for his own boutique through a licensing agreement with Japan's Itochu Fashion Systems Co., Ltd. Also, to the surprise of many, he stopped participating in fashion week runway shows. While discontinuing these relationships, Oldham was busy forging a new one with Crunch Fitness, an elite health club in New York, to design an upscale men's and women's active-wear line to be distributed through eight health clubs across the United States.
In 1999 Oldham introduced a lower-priced jeans line, TO2, to continue his earlier expansion into the rapidly growing teen and college market. This junior line, also produced by Sun Apparel, was marketed through Oldham's interactive website. Through the website, visitors can flip through a virtual catalogue, download promotion materials; review "Todd's Tips" on music, shopping, and food; and engage in other interactive activities targeted at junior customers.
By comparison to many, Oldham is a relative newcomer to the American fashion industry. However, in a brief period of time, he has propelled himself to the forefront of American fashion by participating in innovative marketing strategies through cable television and the World Wide Web. He is also one of the few designers to develop product lines targeted at the emerging teen market. Despite his youth, his unique use of color, pattern, and fabric has earned him recognition as one of the top designers in America.
Larson, Soren. "Oldham Scent to Bow at Neiman's." Women's Wear Daily 168 (December 9, 1994): 4.
Lender, Heidi. "Hot Today." Women's Wear Daily 163 (May 8, 1992): 6. "Todd Oldham to Create Batman Line." Daily News Record 25 (April 21, 1995): 4.
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