MORE

Will the clothes make the man?

He is cute, almost cuddly, with a harmless smirk and a sandy mop that maintains its state of calculated dishevelment as he scampers about the soundstage, grabbing props, dropping jokes, chattering continuously like a rapper without a beat.

He wears a tight, grass-green V-neck sweater, several braided string bracelets--the kind schoolkids wear--and worn jeans with the fly cut away to expose buttons. He sports the requisite two-day stubble. As he does his TV personality thing, he is energetic, glib, undeniably cool.

He is Todd Oldham, MTV's resident fashion designer, and he flits about from subject to subject as fast as his young viewers exhaust their attention spans. His message, if there is any: Fashion is fun.

For this six-minute segment of House of Style, shot last month at MTV's Manhattan studios, Oldham and show host Rebecca Romijn mow down a list of Heloise hints for the hip. Sometimes ingenious, sometimes preposterous, and always cheap, they include how to make your own wallpaper--using multiple Xeroxed images, which Oldham slaps up with Elmer's Glue--and how to stuff old socks with herbs to create an eye-soothing nighttime treatment.

"Clean socks," Oldham says after just the right pause, offering the obviously premeditated punch line.

At the end of the bit, Romijn and Oldham take turns smearing homemade beauty concoctions on each other. The fashion designer spreads plain yogurt with rosemary on Romijn's face. At the same time, Romijn, who established her fame as a model in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issues, works an ooze of smashed bananas and avocados into Oldham's hair, moving slowly--as he instructs--from front to back.

For about the third time in this tiny segment, as Romijn winds her fingers sensuously through his hair, Oldham promises that his primitive beauty aids will "add zing to your sex life."

"You say that about everything," Romijn teases.
Smiling into the camera, with avocado glop dripping from his nose, Oldham shoots back: "Hey--we're here to help."

One thing's for sure: You'd never catch Ralph or Calvin in squished avocados.

But Todd Oldham--whom some industry insiders refer to as "Mr. Youthquake" because of his preternatural ability to delight the hip and celebrated--is anything but the stereotypical fashion designer. The Dallas native, who moved to New York nearly a decade ago, is uniquely a product of MTV--from his exacting image control to the cut-and-paste ethos that defines his couture fashions.

"Todd is very TV-friendly," says House of Style producer Alisa Bellettini. "He is just a natural."

He's also a remarkably nice guy, a self-taught Texas boy who's maintained his manners in the midst of big money and bigger egos--even if his humility is formulated precisely for media consumption.

To MTV's audience of 4.5 million 15- to 34-year-olds, Oldham is the face of fashion. He's appeared as a regular on House of Style since 1993, and while his viewers may not be able to afford his $2,000 dresses, they can subscribe to his why-not? philosophy. For those who want panache but are short on cash, Oldham supplies the answer: garage-sale refuse turned into interior design, thrift-shop finds transformed into fashion. It's the look of simulated trashiness that's defined an entire generation.

Oldham is also well loved among those inclined to plunk down more than a thousand for a frock. His celebrity couture clients are legion. Among them, in ascending order of coolness: Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman.

An Oldham party dress, probably his bestseller in the high-end market, is typically a skimpy but intricately constructed affair. In his most recent fall collection, he had one number that looked as though the model had been wrapped in beaded ribbons.

His designs often play on unexpected combinations. This season, he presented a pinstripe suit with the stripes fashioned from faux pearls. He has embroidered toaster images on jackets and attached pot-holders as pockets.

Boring people, they say, do not wear Todd Oldham clothes. Fun people do--people out raving at 4 in the morning. People who get on the guest list, people who get past the velvet rope. Todd Oldham is the premier designer for kids who go to clubs--in a limo.

For almost a decade now, Oldham's whimsical work has been splashed across the editorial pages of Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, and other fashion magazines. "He's a complete original creative genius," gushes Glenda Bailey, an executive editor of Marie Claire who has championed Oldham and scheduled a spread of his clothes in an upcoming issue. Building on that kind of exposure, Oldham, in the past four years, has opened boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Tokyo that sell his products exclusively.

The thirtysomething designer and MTV personality fits the definition of phenomenon. But--perhaps realizing that you can't be a hot young thing forever--Oldham's financial backers are now planning to take the designer one step further. Instead of just cheerleading for the MTV crowd, they want him to dress them. They're urging him to sell his wares to a broader group, for bigger profits, than the relatively small couture crowd. Through licensing, they want to propel Oldham into the ranks of the omnipresent, a la Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. They intend to transform Oldham's logo--a crown--into an all-American icon and his brand into $50 million in sales.

 

"I told Todd, someone took that alligator and turned it into a pony," says Sun Apparel's Michael Press, referring to Ralph Lauren's ubiquitous Polo shirts, which supplanted the Lacoste version in the early 1980s as the premier sportswear label. "I'm going to take that pony and turn it into a Todd Oldham crown."

This year, Oldham's Dallas-based company, run by his mother, Linda Oldham, has negotiated contracts with Sun Apparel of El Paso and Itochu Modepal, a Japanese conglomerate, that could, if all goes well, launch an explosion in Oldham-designed apparel and accessories--and quite possibly trump the pony with the crown.

Sun Apparel recently expanded a venture to produce Oldham-designed denim and sportswear products. And Itochu will produce what is known in the industry as a "bridge line," a category of designer clothes targeted at the shopper who will pay as much as $200 for a shirt but can't afford couture prices.

Sun Apparel, which first started producing an Oldham denim line two years ago, has increased its Todd Oldham-designed output almost 10 times over last year and has begun offering jeans that retail in the $60 range, as well as a much broader sportswear line, all with the crown logo. Press, president of the Sun Apparel division that oversees the Oldham line, has told the fashion media that he expects to hit $10 million in sales next year.

So far, retailers report that Oldham's lower-priced line--available locally only at H.D.'s Clothing Co. on Lower Greenville--has done well. It's hard to tell for certain, though, because Oldham's privately held fashion company discloses no financial information.

Furthermore, the fashion industry has heard rumors of a Todd Oldham explosion before. Just three years ago, mass-market publications such as Newsweek were running stories predicting that Oldham was about to break out of the pack of young designers that included Isaac Mizrahi, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, and Cynthia Rowley and become the next Calvin Klein, a onetime couture designer who parlayed his name into a reported $40 million-a-year clothing industry.

At the time, Oldham had just signed a lucrative consulting contract with the giant German clothing manufacturer Escada, known for the brightly colored short dresses popular among well-to-do Dallas women. But last fall, Escada discreetly aborted its plans to launch a cheaper line of Oldham clothes. The official word was that the decision had been mutual. But a former Escada executive says Oldham got booted.

Sun and Itochu's ambitious licensing deals could represent the homegrown designer's second--and best--chance to access mass-market profits, to make the big-time. But this could also be Oldham's last chance.

Significantly, Oldham has never opened a store in his own hometown--a fairly healthy fashion market, by most assessments. Dallas may represent a threshold of wider-market appeal that Oldham isn't prepared to cross yet. Of course, the designer doesn't see it that way. "Every time, we go, 'What about Dallas?' Then we talk five minutes, and we don't put it there," he says. "There is no location that tells you where to go. NorthPark? I'm not sure we'd be able to attract the funky customer. Deep Ellum? I don't know if we'd survive there."

A former Neiman Marcus buyer offers a different take on his chances in Dallas, where it's difficult to find Oldham-designed garments. Neiman's was the first in the country to carry Oldham's clothes, but the Dallas-based department store didn't offer much of his line at local stores last season. Neiman's clothing collection "is made up mostly of significant important designers or hot and trendy designers," says the former buyer. "Todd Oldham didn't fit anymore into the latter, and he's not a classic."

Clearly, it's not easy to sustain the youthful phenomenon, to transcend trend. In 10 years, will Oldham--like the ripped sweatshirt from 1983's Flashdance--be a relic of a past decade? Or will he become the American Armani?

Will the next batch of hot young things take a look at a short dress in Oldham's hyperbolic colors and say, with disdainful ennui, "The 90s, man, they were sooooo Todd Oldham."

At 36, Todd Oldham doesn't sound or act like a man who wants his name on every bottom. He won't even cop to such a crass goal. "It's not my ambition to be everywhere," he says. "Not at all. We're just an option.

 

"I'm not competitive in the slightest," he adds. "I don't judge myself and my efforts from where other careers have gone. We're all eating just fine."

It's certainly true that Oldham has many other projects to occupy his attention. For starters, there's his budding television career. In addition to MTV, he has appeared on the TV sitcoms Roseanne and The Nanny, as well as Tracey Ullman's cable specials. He's also co-directed music videos for pop artists Maxi Priest and Us3.

This year, Oldham also produced a coffee-table book, an homage to his own creativity titled Without Boundaries. The $45 hardcover and $27.50 paperback, with a foreword by cult film director John Waters, features a brightly colored hodgepodge of images: kitsch icon Lassie, blurry scenes from Oldham's video spots on MTV, and a photograph of Susan Sarandon stooping down in one of his tie-dyed velour suits to pick up spilled groceries.

Oldham has also expanded on his MTV dabblings into interior design. Two years ago, he designed the interior for the MTV bus that went on tour during the presidential election to encourage young people to vote. The color theme: deep berry with gold stars. This year, he began work on the soon-to-open Tiffany Beach Hotel in Miami's extremely hot South Beach, putting his mark even on the furniture. Most recently, he was invited to join the well-respected Rockwell group in designing the interior of a Las Vegas mall.

But more than all of these pursuits, Oldham's movie-making ambitions rank dearest to his heart. Since the early '90s, Oldham has told anyone who would listen that he wants to be a filmmaker. This year, he bought the rights to make a film based on My Face for the World to See, the memoirs of Liz Renay, a wannabe movie actress and sometime Mafia moll who claims to have bedded hundreds of men in 1950s Hollywood. Oldham plans to direct the film and has signed a contract with the powerful Creative Artists Agency in Hollywood, which is assembling the film's cast and crew for a 1999 shooting.

Oldham has already begun another film project. In April, when American designers hang their clothes on models and parade them on runways in New York, Oldham will take a different tack to display his wares: He's going to show a movie.

At press time, he was preparing to shoot a 10-minute film--with a main character, narrative, and plot--that also just so happens to feature his fall collection. The star hasn't been announced yet, but Oldham is directing. "I believe it's a first," he says gleefully.

The transition from designer to filmmaker doesn't worry him. "I have good instincts," he says confidently. "And the fashion shows have been great training. It's basically about pulling together a very skilled group of people for a short length of time and soliciting what you want out of them."

Whatever the outcome of his filmmaker fantasies, Oldham skillfully presents the image of a young man whose only concern is keeping up with his muse.

"Todd is in it for the fun," says Maria Edwards-Wilkinson, a former buyer at Neiman's and Stanley Korshak who got to know Oldham when he was starting out in the early 1980s. "I don't think he ever wanted to build an empire. That would drain his creative energies."

If Oldham truly eschews empire, his attitude may have something to do with his down-to-earth origins.

His high school days in Keller--and his five childhood years in Tehran, Iran, where Todd and his family lived while his father served as a contract worker for Bell Helicopter--are as far removed from the sensibilities of the New York fashion scene as one could possibly get.

For one thing, Oldham never attended school to study fashion design. In fact, he never even went to college. "He was not a dumb kid," recalls his mother, Linda Oldham, 54, who still lives in Keller. "He just didn't like doing it because they told him to."

Oldham identified his interest in fashion during his senior year at Keller High School--while he was at home recovering from a bout with hepatitis. To while away his time, he taught himself how to do beadwork embroidery--now one of his signature touches, an eagerly anticipated element of his collections.

Oldham, incidentally, did not find the going easy in Keller, where the family had moved in the late 1970s after living in Tehran. "It was very stifling for them," Linda Oldham recalls. Her children felt constricted by small-town life, though she always encouraged them to pursue whatever dreams they wanted.

Some time after his recovery from hepatitis, Todd, who'd learned some sewing techniques from his mother, prepared a dress for a wealthy Fort Worth woman whose name he can no longer remember. She paid him for it: his first sale.

 

Oldham's fascination with clothing began in earnest, however, after he graduated from high school and got a job in alterations at the Ralph Lauren Polo shop in Highland Park. A club fiend, Oldham had died his hair pink and was forbidden to venture to the front of the store; his boss figured he might scare the customers. But in the few months he worked at the shop--before he got fired, a proud event for Oldham (though he doesn't specify the reasons)--he says he took apart the clothes and learned a great deal about the construction of quality garments.

From the beginning, Oldham's family says he seemed to know intuitively how to design clothes. "It's almost impossible to articulate," Oldham says about his talent. "You have to respond to what's needed." These days, he often draws his designs while watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns. "The Mary Tyler Moore theme song triggers something," he told Out magazine. "I can draw solidly for a half-hour as I watch Mary. That can get me going really good."

Most of the published versions of Oldham's early days cite a 1981 trip to Neiman Marcus as his commercial break. Typically, the articles recount how Oldham sewed his first clothing collection at home--almost as a lark--using his younger sister Robin as a fit model. He even showed her how to carry herself as a model. "He made me learn how to do the walk," Robin says.

Then Oldham toted his clothes--and Robin--to downtown Dallas' Neiman Marcus. "If you don't tell people you don't know what you're doing, then they don't necessarily know you don't know," Oldham says about his gutsy move to push his very first collection at Dallas' biggest, most exclusive department store. The Neiman buyers supposedly didn't detect Oldham's ignorance--and immediately took a shine to his line.

The cinema verite version of Oldham's start, however, is slightly more complicated. When he finally cracked Neiman's, Oldham had already been shopping his designs around for several months. He had even produced a small show--featuring about 10 garments--at a Fort Worth hotel, and sold clothes to the wealthy young women he met club-hopping--as well as their moms.

He had also--most significantly--started up a relationship with Tony Longoria. The son of a Bossier City dry cleaner, Longoria had come to Dallas a few years earlier, studied the retail industry at a trade school, and worked his way up to the position of assistant buyer at Neiman's. As Longoria got to know Todd, he says, he encouraged his partner's design efforts but was cautious about trying to get him in the door at Neiman's. "It was sort of touchy," Longoria says.

Fortuitously, Longoria ran into Oldham one day in New York while he and his Neiman's supervisor were on a buying trip. The fledgling designer was carrying a garment bag of his clothes on his back, walking door-to-door on Seventh Avenue trying to get a hearing somewhere.

The meeting--which Longoria insists was coincidental--was just the break Oldham needed. "My boss asked about what Todd's stuff was like," Longoria recalls. Of course, he told his supervisor he liked it--and that's how Oldham got into Neiman's.

Todd says his parents gave him $200 to buy the materials to produce the clothes for Neiman's' first order, a batch of knit-interlock sportswear for women. Oldham and his mother sewed the garments and dyed them in a bathtub at the Keller home. Linda used her own sewing machine, and Todd used grandma's, which had a short circuit. "It either went very very fast or not at all," Todd recalls.

Not surprisingly, the mother-and-son team had some expensive learning to do. They hadn't quite mastered the craft of grading down patterns for size, and as they tried to construct the bigger sizes, the skirts came out shaped like pillowcases rather than tailored garments. Even so, the product sold well enough; Neiman's put the items in its new Rodeo Drive store in Beverly Hills, and Oldham went on to produce a winter collection. "I just thought cold and warm," he says.

Oldham's ascent to fashion stardom took more time. And along the way, with the Texas oil bust of the 1980s, came financially painful moments that the Oldhams would just as soon forget.

In 1985, while Todd was doing well with a line of shirts, he and his parents took out a $500,000 loan, backed by the Small Business Administration, from the now-defunct Republic Bank. But in 1988, the bank took the Oldhams to court when they failed to pay back some $297,000 of the loan.

 

Oldham and Longoria also overextended themselves on a $275,000 Lakewood home they'd purchased from Maria Edwards-Wilkinson, the former buyer for Neiman's. The couple had remodeled the home and publicized it in the slick magazine Metropolitan Homes, but when Longoria filed for personal bankruptcy, they defaulted on the mortgage. Edwards-Wilkinson, who had personally loaned them some $15,000 for the house, says she never got her money back.

The series of discouragements almost broke Oldham. "I had become really disillusioned," he says. "It had all crashed." With the family's clothing enterprise in tatters, Oldham considered calling it quits in 1989 to study filmmaking in New York.

But shortly after hatching his escape from the rag trade, he got what was probably the biggest break of his fashion-designing career. The Japanese company Onward Kashiyama was looking for an America designer to back, and they'd heard about Oldham. Since he was prepared to shuck the whole industry if necessary, Oldham bargained hard, insisting that he, Longoria, and his mother call the shots. He also says he asked for a lot of money--though he won't say how much. To his surprise, the Japanese company agreed to everything he asked, Oldham says.

Soon afterward, Oldham and Longoria moved from Dallas to New York--a step he has never regretted. "If you are an American designer, you have to be in New York," Oldham says. "It's the editors, the vitality. Anytime you are in an industry and you are not there, it's a problem."

By 1992, Onward Kashiyama got payback for its generosity. That year, Todd won what essentially is the fashion industry's equivalent to the Grammy Award for best new artist: The Perry Ellis New Fashion Talent award from the Council of Fashion Designers.

About the same time, Oldham began his association with MTV and started getting relentlessly positive press coverage. First, Glamour put his clothes on the cover. Even The New York Times weighed in with a feature about his behind-the-scenes activities at a show.

MTV producer Alisa Bellettini invited Oldham in 1993 for a guest appearance on House of Style, hosted at the time by megamodel Cindy Crawford. Right away, Bellettini says, Oldham's potential was obvious. "All you have to say is, 'OK, Todd, you have 10 seconds to explain this,'" she recalls. "And he'd do it just like that." He was never, she adds, "a diva fashion designer."

Oldham was so well-received that Bellettini established a special monthly segment for him. Called "Todd Time," the bit always began with an opening shot of his crown logo. One time, the designer redesigned a whole living room for less than a few bucks. MTV viewers still call in to ask about that show, Bellettini says.

But two years ago, Bellettini and Oldham both say, they decided to scale back his appearances. Oldham says he wanted to exit MTV while he was still in full glory. He was also traveling frequently to Germany to consult for the clothing manufacturer Escada.

Nowadays--with Escada in the past--Oldham regularly shuttles from his Soho showroom to the MTV studios near Times Square for guest stints. Bellettini, for one, admits she needs him--she's never found another designer who fits so well with her audience.

Oldham's genial, modest manner has become something of a legend in the legendarily vicious fashion industry. "Everybody who meets Todd says the same thing," says Marie Claire's editor Glenda Bailey. "He is the sweetest man alive. He treats everybody well. He has integrity." When Cindy Crawford introduces the designer on an MTV special, she refers to him as "the always adorable Todd Oldham."

By nature, Oldham is remarkably low-key. "I have a really hard time with the concept of proving myself to somebody," he says. "I've just always thought that it's your work that should come through."

Lacking any formal training, Oldham credits what he calls his "get-it-together gene" for his ability to pull off some of the most lauded fashion shows in the industry. His own mother describes a kind of inner confidence that affords him his gentle ways. "He was 30 when he was born," she says. "He has always been an old soul."

When Newsweek produced its Oldham profile in 1995, Richard Martin, then curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's costume institute, was quoted as saying: "Todd has that sense of canny Americana that we associate with certain great artists, like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. It's an ability to be curious and quirky, yet at the same time to achieve a mainstream style. Todd can design a whole world."

(Somewhat surprisingly, Oldham had little trouble falling in step with the New York fashion editors. "They like to watch you for a while," he recalls. He also had no difficulty detecting phoniness. "I can tell immediately when people are zooming me," he says, referring to the fashion-industry term for brown-nosing.)

 

With the media on his side, it's no surprise that licensees began lining up to get Oldham's name on their merchandise. Today, his boutiques carry a wide array of licensed products, including perfume, eyeglasses, purses, watches, fine shoes, and Keds sneakers. Some of the merchandise, however--including the perfume, watches, and shoes--represents deals that failed to pan out the way the Oldhams or the licensees had hoped, and have been discontinued.

Of all of the aborted deals, though, the one that ranks as the biggest disappointment has been Oldham's relationship with Escada, the $900 million-a-year German clothing manufacturer. Escada--which Oldham refers to as the General Motors of fashion--produces and sells worldwide the expensive, brightly colored, typically tight and sexy couture suits favored by Highland Park women.

In early 1995, Escada announced, with much fanfare, that it was hiring Oldham as a consultant. The link-up puzzled many at the time. Escada's garments are typically considered clothing for rich but conservative women, whereas Oldham had achieved fame for his edgy, off-beat qualities. The designer, however, says the two had more in common than many recognized. "We both have a love of color and an understanding of ornamentation," he says.

But by October 1997, the deal had fizzled. Oldham insists he has no regrets. "I did my job very well. They had great financial gains," he says. Ron Frasch, who was president of Escada USA at the time the deal was struck, says, "It's always an interesting challenge when you bring in a free spirit like Todd to a giant corporation. But Todd would never compromise himself."

The breaking point between Oldham and Escada came with a failed effort to produce a lower-priced "bridge" line. Oldham guards his comments about Escada, but does offer, somewhat defensively, "I don't think it's important to be involved at that magnitude," referring to Escada's size.

Oldham still has a marked-down rack of clothes from the Escada deal for sale at his New York boutique. "This is a collection that does not exist," says Conn Brattain, Todd's press assistant, about the garments--mostly in brown and yellow hues--which represent Oldham's first efforts to produce the bridge line for Escada under his name.

After Oldham designed those clothes, Escada pulled the plug on the whole project. "The climate was not right," says Amy Rosi, vice president of communications at the company. Escada didn't want to invest in the high cost of promoting a bridge line, she says.

Oldham will only say: "It was a perfect example of a bad business decision. You would assume they did their research before they produced the line."

Back in Dallas, in an industrial area near Stemmons Freeway, the Todd Oldham factory sits in an unmarked, single-story brick building. Only in the foyer does the company's name appear.

This is the place where Oldham's mother, grandmother, and three siblings all work.

The first member of the clan one meets while walking through the factory is "Granny," Linda Oldham's 78-year-old mother, Millie Jasper. A sprightly woman who worked as a beautician and managed apartment buildings for a living before joining the family business, Granny, as she's called by everyone, serves as quality-control czar. She inspects every garment before it leaves.

A few steps away is Linda Oldham's office, which has a decidedly lived-in look, with a rocking chair and throw rugs. When asked if his mother would--as one of Oldham's sisters has speculated--retire soon, Todd reacts dramatically. Slapping his knees, laughing out loud, he says, "Oh, her retiring is such a joke. I hope for her she would, but I'm sorry--that woman is never going to quit working. She is more active than she has ever been in her life."

One need only examine Linda's daily routine for proof. She drives an hour from the farmhouse in Keller to manage the factory, then at night returns home to labor into the wee hours on her numerous artistic avocations--furniture-making, drawing, and printmaking--some of which get incorporated into her son's designs.

With soft features, a gray-blonde flip, and the same crooked smile as her son, Linda Oldham looks more like a kindergarten teacher than a hard-nosed company executive. As president of the family company, Linda employs Todd's three siblings, as well as some 35 other workers. (Jack Oldham, Todd's father, is a computer consultant who, in the '80s, tried his hand at the clothing business but didn't take to its unpredictability. He eventually returned to computers, though he still attends Todd's fashion shows in clothing his son designs.)

While Todd tends to his designs and other projects, Linda Oldham runs the show. Specifically, Linda--there is a company rule that no one, not even Todd, can call her "Mom" during office hours--oversees his factory, where his couture line is manufactured. From her office, Linda also negotiates all the licensing contracts for the company and supervises her daughter Robin, who manages the retail operation.

 

"My mom is incredible," Todd says. "Once I set things in motion, they do the rest."

Although neither she nor Todd will say so specifically, Linda appears--in all business matters--to have the final say.

"Todd is a sweet, sweet man who would do anything for anyone," says Sun Apparel's Michael Press. "But Linda is a cut-and-dry, simply stated businesswoman who is very comfortable saying yes or no. When I need to explain something in business terms, I go to Linda."

A former legal assistant, Linda Oldham ran a fruit stand in Keller before she helped launch her son's clothing business, and she has no qualms about expressing her profit-seeking goals.

"Licensing is what you dream about," Linda says. "You get the money, and they do the work. Woohoo."

For much of her adult life, Linda Oldham, the daughter of West Texas farmers who married her teenage sweetheart shortly after high school, was just a mom. But by the accounts of three of her children and her own mother, Linda was always unusually creative. She sewed her children's clothes and kept a round-the-clock arts and crafts table available to them. She once served an all-blue dinner--putting food coloring in the fried chicken, the corn, and the mashed potatoes.

Although all the children work for their mother, each had opportunities to work elsewhere. Robin, once a Child Protective Services caseworker, now watches over Todd's four retail stores, and Todd's younger brother Brad oversees production of the couture clothes and produces all of the metal castings used in Todd's designs. Before that, though, he attended Texas Wesleyan University on a basketball scholarship and began studying for his MBA before deciding to work full time for the family.

The youngest Oldham child, Mikell, lives in Los Angeles and manages her brother's boutique there. Before that, she graduated from Texas Woman's University and spent four years teaching in DISD.

All of the Oldhams seem refreshingly down-to-earth, unimpressed with their own success. Linda, for her part, discusses the whims of fashion as just that, avoiding any pretentiousness. She recalls, for instance, Todd's one-time signature style--brightly colored patchwork. "Just as we became proficient in doing it--it was very difficult to do--everybody else started doing it, and we had to do something else," she says.

"This whole business is in flux all the time. I used to find it a little discombobulating."

In sharp contrast to the bland Dallas digs, Todd Oldham's New York neighborhood reeks of chic.

After he finished shooting House of Style last month, Oldham headed for his New York showroom. It's on Wooster Street in Soho, right across from his New York boutique. On the very same block are retail outlets for Isaac Mizrahi, Commes des Garçons, and the shoemaker Stephane Kelian. Only the Knoll office equipment outlet looks out of place. Japanese tourists, draped in Prada bags, seem to be the only ones coming in and out of the expensive shops on a weekday morning.

The interior of Oldham's showroom boasts the same hipper-than-thou quality as the street below. Inside, Oldham employs 10 people, including two design assistants and his lover of 18 years, Longoria, who peddles Oldham's couture line to retailers.

The chandelier catches the eye first. It's an odd combination of crystal, tie-dyed shades, and gold-fringed tassels. Oldham designed it, of course, as well as the interiors of all of his boutiques. Below the chandelier is a large table; the garments that haven't yet sold from Oldham's spring collection are displayed around it in a circle. Off to the side, a TV screen plays video of the runway from that show. And on the walls--just as advertised on MTV--Oldham has plastered his home-made wallpaper. This time it's not photocopies, but yellowed foreign newspapers--particularly useful if you read Urdu, Hebrew or Arabic.

Across the street in the boutique is a display of the fashion designer's new hope: his blue jeans line, produced by Sun Apparel.

The names of his jeans cuts are typically clever. You can buy your Todd Oldham jeans in "sexy, easy, mixer, classic, stove, boot, or cozy" styles. On the same racks is the sportswear that Sun Apparel's Press touts. The prices aren't cheap; a sweatshirt will set you back $128. (Quite reasonable, compared to the $1,100 translucent beaded black dress in the couture section.)

No customers are buying the jeans this early Monday morning in February. Indeed, only two customers, just window-shopping, even come near the door of the boutique at this unlikely hour.

 

Oldham's mass-market dreams may take longer to launch than clothing fads spawned by MTV. In Dallas, for example, Oldham products are still inexplicably hard to find. Dallas' Neiman Marcus stores didn't seem to pay much attention to the spring line, and just last week, you could buy some crown-labeled leftovers at bargain prices--a $130 shirt for a mere 30 bucks--at Neiman's Last Call in Austin.

But Izzy Ezrailson, who owns Up Against the Wall, a 16-unit specialty chain that began in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and targets young, hip customers in that region, says he can't keep Oldham stuff on the racks. "Is Todd Oldham really middle-America?" Ezrailson asks rhetorically. "It doesn't matter. He sells."

Sun Apparel's Press is certain he's pegged a winner in Oldham. "Anything he touches," he says, "is lucrative.


Sponsor Content