Todd Oldham, barely 30, is the newest star on New York’s Seventh Avenue. From his humble beginnings in Dallas, the self-taught, award-winning designer is now dressing the likes of Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Candice Bergen and Madonna. In February, he was awarded the prestigious Perry Ellis Award for new talent by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, an honor that placed him on the podium at New York’s Lincoln Center with Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld, At the Dallas Apparel Mart a few months earlier, he was given the Dallas Fashion Awards’ "Rising Star." Deeply honored by both accolades, he laughs at what he calls his "10 year, overnight success story."
Oldham was born in Corpus Christi and went to high school in Keller, but his design business is Dallas born, He gained his only professional training during a stint in alterations at The Polo Ralph Lauren shop in Highland Park Village, but his first stab at fashion design was an ensemble for his younger sister, Robin, who still occasionally serves as his muse. Todd was a 9-year-old, on a long, hot summer visit to an aunt in Amarillo. He bought two op-art print pillowcases, cut the bottom out of one and installed a drawstring, creating a lube dress. The second pillowcase was used as a "capelike thing." A pair of burled wood platforms were fashioned into footwear in a YMCA shop class. It was tongue-in-cheek chic, individualistic, wearable fun-recurring themes that have made him a success.
And yet in Dallas, Todd Oldham’s biggest claim to fame may be as grass-roots as the "Dallas Designer" label that stuck like glue for more than a decade: the by-invitation, SRO sample sales at the factory near the Trinity River levee where his mom, dad, grandmother, brother and sister, and an extended family of employees and co-workers still manufacture what he designs. The chance to browse Oldham’s un-basics remains a habit for this city’s more intrepid fashion types.
While Todd was in Dallas, his wares were being showcased in windows of better stores on both coasts, hut only Neiman’s, Lou Lat-timore and The Gazebo bought him locally. He had to move to New York to hit it big.
Which he did-in 1989, he was invited to become the only American designer represented and distributed in this country and abroad by Onward Kashiyama. the Japanese consortium. It was his first formal New York show for the fall 1990 season that put him on the cosmic fashion map.
Though New York is home now, he returns to Dallas seasonally to what he calls "sample purgatory" at the factory. "It’s where I can get a lot of work done in a short amount of time, and be surrounded by my family."
On the horizon arc a chance to design and direct for MTV, and the possibility of collaborating with director Pedro Almodovar, who came backstage after the spring ’91 show in New York, grabbed Oldham in a bear hug, and exclaimed, "We’re twins!"
But, whatever happens next, he remains simply Todd. "Hey, reality is just your perception of it."