Designer Todd Oldham & Fashion Nirvana

Designer Todd Oldham & Fashion Nirvana

Blog entry by Julia Garrett, Texas Fashion Collection Intern at the University of North Texas

Stone-faced supermodels typically anchor proper runway shows. But for designer Todd Oldham (born 1961), things were just a little different. With the models beaming and twirling down the runway and the digital prints and crochet textiles they wore so well, Oldham’s kitsch-embracing styles sent hearts swooning from Los Angeles to New York City during his fashion house’s heyday. Todd Oldham Studios produced colorful, vibrant, innovative collections from 1989 to 1998.

Before this, Oldham started his career a little closer to home, here in Texas. Setting out on his own after high school, Oldham moved from Corpus Christi to Dallas with a borrowed $50-worth of white cotton, which he dyed and sewed into a small line that he sold to Neiman Marcus. Then moving to fashion capital New York City, Oldham gained national recognition, winning the Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent from the Council of Fashion Designers in 1991. The Spring collection that earned him this award was full of bejeweled mosaics on itty-bitty mini dresses and glistening bralettes. His fashion statements fused a love of craft and the vernacular of the everyday with a tradition of bold, avant-garde, luxury design.

Spring 1991

Speaking of statement pieces, one of the Oldham brand’s signatures was the use of digitally-printed fabrics. Even in his early career, the designer pioneered this method that came to be broadly popular in the 90s. Oldham often showcased his digital prints alongside textures with very different visual effects in a single design—like the pearlescent, metal-linked vests over crepe-de-chine slips or gradient velvets found in his Fall 1991 collection. 

Fall 1991

Knit crochets and polyesters made from digitally-printed polaroid shots were keynotes of his covetable eye for design. By 1992, some of the most desired supermodels of the decade graced Todd Oldham runways, from a fresh-faced 18-year-old Tyra Banks, to others including Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington.

Spring 1992 Fall 1992 Fall 1993

Todd Oldham’s Spring 1994 collection bounces between print-clad signatures and more thoughtful, sleek pieces that focused on flattering the human figure. Showing this attention to detailed tailoring, whether it was darted side slits for a vest or the fit of a stringy LBD (“little black dress”), Oldham committed to growth and innovation in his designs over time. This collection’s garments showed a new, concurrent interest in minimalism and nodded to 90s trends found in other designers. For example, Oldham created a body-conscious twist on Calvin Klein’s classic slip dress, as well as baby-doll dresses featuring halter necks and stringy, form-revealing silhouettes.

Spring 1994

Oldham’s career in fashion from then on featured bright, colorful, “more-is-more” designs alternating with minimalist, body-conscious touches. From barely-there two-piece sets to straw miniskirts and cape combos, Oldham’s style matured throughout the decade.

Spring 1994

The designer became a master of tasteful maximalism in his pairings of full-body prints with black, satin, cropped blazers and embroidered straps on slip dresses. Evidence of Oldham’s colorful, eclectic design aesthetic and use of digitally-printed textiles can be seen in the McNay’s Fashion Nirvana: Runway to Everyday exhibition. All loaned from the Texas Fashion Collection (TFC), a coat printed with a picture of paper shreds joins the “Less Is More & More Is More” section, while a colorful shirtwaist dress and landscape-photography-clad t-shirt dress can be found in the “Culture & Subculture” section.

Spring 1998

Todd Oldham Fall 1992; Todd Oldham, American, born 1961, 1993, Wool, brass studs, Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas, Gift of Todd Oldham Studios

Todd Oldham Spring 1992; Todd Oldham, American, born 1961, Shirtwaist dress 1994, Cotton broadcloth, rhinestones, Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas, Gift of Todd Oldham Studios
Todd Oldham, American, born 1961, Coat, 1998, Synthetic satin, Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas, Gift of Todd Oldham Studios

After Oldham closed his fashion house in 1999, he went on to work in interior design, author several books, and other creative ventures. Oldham has a history of showcasing his multidisciplinary artistic talents. Many may remember Oldham’s “Todd Time” segments on MTV’s House of Style program, in which the designer shared DIY projects, helpful life hacks, and creative yet affordable fashion advice. Although Todd Oldham has moved on to other horizons, there are plenty of opportunities to dream about what could’ve joined your vintage closet on view at the McNay Art Museum.

Upon closing his fashion business in 1999, Oldham donated 118 garments from his archive to the Texas Fashion Collection, also known as the TFC, at the University of North Texas (Denton, TX). Thanks to a partnership with the TFC, numerous signature examples of what made Oldham so distinctly successful will be on view at the McNay for the coming months. A silk ribbon gown, a satin coat, a pinstripe dress, and more grace this exhibition’s slice of fashion history from the 1990s, calling to the minimal-maximalist in all of us.

, Texas Fashion Collection (TFC) Intern at the University of North Texas.

The TFC, located in Denton, TX, houses over 20,000 historic and designer garments and accessories and is directed by Annette Becker. Fashion Nirvana: Runway to Everyday is an exhibition organized by the McNay Art Museum in partnership with the TFC. Fashion Nirvana is the first fashion and video art exhibition in the Museum’s history, and focuses on the style and culture of the 1990s. Marion McNay Koogler founded the McNay Art Museum as the first modern art museum in Texas in 1954, and the public collection now holds over 22,000 objects.