Never Out of Fashion
Todd Oldham's interiors are as hip as his women's wear—and they're one-size-fits-all, too. Cindy Allen finds out how he made the leap
Staff -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
So much has changed for Todd Oldham. Since shelving his splashy women's ready-to-wear label in 1998 and switching to interiors, he's completed the Hotel in Miami Beach, redone the New York nightclub Veruka, and produced tiles for Artisan Workshop. And the biggest news yet is Target, which is launching his extensive line of home furnishings and bedding in July. Some things, however, are constants. He still works out of the same New York studio, conducting business with unassuming charm.
Did you grow up wanting to be a fashion designer?
My parents were great about teaching me how to do all kinds of things, so I learned to sew at the age of 9. Fashion just came naturally to me—it seemed like an easy career to develop.
What did you like most about being in fashion?
I'm fascinated by textile development, embroidery, and beading.
What was missing?
I've never liked how inaccessible fashion is. Unless you had a lot of money and a really skinny body, what we designed was simply not available to you. That made me sad, all that exclusion. It doesn't seem very modern, does it?
So you crossed over to interiors. How did you become involved in hospitality design?
I had a shop in Miami Beach, right opposite this hotel named the Hotel, which was completely dilapidated but so charming, with such interesting details. This guy—who turned out to be the owner—literally came in one night and said, "I'd love to talk to you about doing my place." So I went across the street and was intrigued instantly.
Did any particular designer, architect, or even artist inspire you?
Well, I'm a big fan of Rudolf Schindler and Morris Lapidus, and I had the pleasure of spending some time with Morris—I actually knew him.
Were you influenced by the architecture in Miami Beach?
Only ever so slightly, because I realized that the last thing South Beach needed was another deco hotel. I figured that we should approach it from a different angle, so we sought inspiration from the natural location, from the way the palm fronds filter light onto the sand and the way the sun hits the crests of waves in the ocean. You can see 15 or 20 shades of blue or green at once, and it's so beautiful. Also, we kept in mind that salt air and sand can really wreak havoc on an interior. To enhance wear-resistance, we did things like picking Modernica chairs with sturdy woven upholstery and specifying exaggerated kick plates for built-ins. The Hotel has been operating now for over three years, and it looks like it opened last week.
But you recently redesigned the restaurant, right?
True, it's completely changed. One of the things we did was paint 2-foot-wide green vertical stripes on the walls, which gives you this very beautiful, tentlike feel—a very, very fancy tent.
What else are you up to?
Tiles, among other projects. We just designed some with Artisan Workshop. They're made in Morocco, using a local tinted-concrete technique. I've always loved the matte patina of those tiles, but the motifs are usually traditional. To produce them with a modern look was really great.
Now that you're obviously committed to interior design, where do you want to go with it?
It brings me great joy to be able to share what I do, so signing a deal with Target was a thrill.
What is good design for you?
It's such a subjective call, but for me it can be the most functional, beautiful thing or else something that doesn't function at all but is so deliciously off.
Let's think of our body, the locus of fashion, as one pole and the greater space we live in as the other pole. Has looking at design from the opposite direction changed the way you work?
When I do interiors, especially in hospitality, my challenge is to make a visitor, with whom I might have nothing in common, feel happy, cozy, and comfortable. Empathy is the key trait for a designer, and I've always had what you could call a fly's-eye view: I see many facets. I certainly respect the designers who have no interest other than expressing their own point of view. I find that just as fascinating as a couture gown—and just as inaccessible. I'm glad we have those great people, but my approach is different.