After having made a name for himself in the fashion landscape in the late '80s and becoming even more famous through his appearances on MTV's House of Style in the '90s, artist Todd Oldham seemed ready for a style empire. On the 1999 cover of Out magazine, the headline ran, "The Renaissance of Fashion Darling Todd Oldham." He appeared in the inaugural 1994 Out100, as well being featured in the 2004 and 2008 portfolios. Since then, Oldham has continued to leave his mark on several creative fronts. Along with his previous books -- with topics ranging from design, to film, to fashion -- he has a collection of crafts supplies for Target, and he has two new book titles coming out. With his varied interests, we caught up with Oldham to find out what keeps this style guru inspired after all these years.
Out: What motivated you to create a line for Target? Was crafts for kids a direction you always knew you wanted to go?
Todd Oldham: Well I was very grateful for my parents, who were both great artists and makers. They spent most of my childhood teaching all of my brothers, sisters, and me everything they knew. So, as I turned into an adult, I started to realize that this was kind of missing. Schools undervalue these educational efforts and are stripping them. I'm not one to buy into broken systems, so I said, "Let's figure out something we can do." And that's where "Kid Made Modern" came from.
So your new "Handmade Modern" line for Target is piggybacking off your "Kid Made Modern" line?
"Kid Made Modern" launched about three years ago, and it's doing super well, so we said why not try the grownup version. It's massive. It'll have its own aisle at Target with quality paints, every conceivable brush, printed tissue paper, wood cuts, stencils, letters; it's a miniature craft store-worth of stuff.
After spending a lot of time in design schools, I found this sadness where people were losing the joy of being in proximity to beauty. When I see certain pieces at MoMA, it just chills me to my ankles. The creative process just makes good humans. It makes good doctors, good moms, and good lawyers -- nothing bad ever came from spending time having creative thoughts.
You received an honorary doctorate from RISD (the Rhode Island School for Design) recently as well?
Yeah, I've been a big fan of RISD and have been working with them on and off since 1989, so this year they gave me their honorary doctorate of fine arts. Personally, having barely graduated high school, and college never really being in my focus, it cracked me up. It's also very, very sweet of them. I'm honored to be part of the long list of intelligent folks that they've given this to.
I'm teaching a class there in the spring about textile design. I used to do a lot of fashion stuff, so textiles is something that I've always had a unique hand at. We're going to do a renegade version of it and do it in the parking lot with water hoses and dye -- I think it'll be fun.
What creative outlets are you pouring your thoughts into right now?
I love my books. My 22nd book comes out this November and there's actually going to be two, the first time I've ever had two titles out at the same time. One of them is on the artist at Ed Emberley, who many people know for his how to draw books. He's done a hundred books--90 of which are out of print--so this is a celebration of his beautiful life's work.
I think I'm the most excited I've been for my other book. It's called Strange Stories: The Photography of Gerald Davis. Gerald Davis is a rare entity in the world because he's un-Googleable, if that's a word, because it's like he never existed. He was a photographer for over 40 years for these European tabloids; he shot stock photos and they're jaw-dropping. The pictures are so peculiar, and elegant. They're beautiful. He's a real master, but he's been a complete secret, so I'm super happy that this book is coming out.
How did you discover him if he's such a secret?
All of my books find me in weird ways. Wayne White, the artist who originated Pee-Wee's Playhouse, whom I did a book on four years ago. His wife, Mimi Pond, is a graphic novelist and worked on The SImpsons. Mimi's best friend is Vanessa Davis, the daughter of Gerald. So through that chain of people, Vanessa asked if I would have a look at the work, and I freaked out and got myself to Palm Beach as fast as I could.
We restored everything back to its full glory. You gasp every time you turn a page. One of the most heartbreaking pictures is of Elizabeth Taylor at some promotional event looking like, "Just kill me please." He caught these really weird, magical moments.
Do you have any plans on doing fashion again in the foreseeable future?
Well, I've learned to never say never a long time ago. But the reason I stopped doing fashion was that I really didn't have anything else to say. I had the most wonderful career in fashion and I had a super good time and always had the pleasure of working for myself, so it really was a joy. I tend to take everything I do ridiculously seriously and, when I thought I didn't have anything else to say in the medium, I went to the all the other things I did. Fashion makes a lot of noise, so people notice that. Clearly it makes more noise than books.
Speaking of noise, have there been any moments this year in the LGBT community that have really stood out with you?
It's been a mixed bag. We get our daily dose of heartbreak and then a beautiful lift of possibility and I think all of it -- the incredible forward movement in the trans communities, for example -- has thrilled me. I have a dear trans friend, and they're the bravest people I've ever met. If anybody really understands, and can think with compassion about what's going on in these situations, you would have nothing but reverence and awe for their bravery and ability to make the most amazing decisions one would ever have to make in their life. I'm just in awe that these incredible folks in these very unique situations are being understood here.