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February 17, 2015

Scene and Heard: Todd Oldham

At Modernism Week, designer Todd Oldham paid homage to one of his design heroes, Alexander Girard, in a keynote presentation of his newly released, 672-page tome, Alexander Girard (Ammo; $200) at the Hilton Palm Springs on Saturday, February 14. “I had a very lucky front row seat, and not too many people get to see all of his stuff in person and I’m still speechless,” said Oldham following the presentation. “We don’t have anyone like him. There is no contemporary Girard. He worked alongside others, but there’s nobody that matched what he did. Can you imagine designing a lighting scheme and then you design the lightbulbs? The lightbulbs? I’ve never heard of any human being that designs like that.”

During the hour-long event followed by a q+a discussion with Girard’s grandson, Corey Girard, Oldham delved into the works highlighted in the monograph including textiles, numerous typography projects, a mural for a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1965, La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York City in 1960, fabrics for George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames, and designs for Braniff International Airways (think sugar packets, napkins, and even disposable bags). “No matter what he did, he did it better than all of us,” said Oldham. “And, in Girard’s eyes, everything had possibilities.”

Oldham, a prolific furniture and fashion designer—who served as creative director for Old Navy, appeared on Bravo’s Top Design, and created pieces for the likes of La-Z-Boy and Target—admits he first became aware of Girard’s work during his days as a fashion designer. “I love research, so I was very well aware of Girard’s textiles, but then I started piecing together the Braniff stuff which was really influential to me as a kid,” he added. “I remember being amazed sitting waiting for my grandparents to arrive on Braniff Airways. It was this revolutionary effort.”

Now, in addition to his newly released collector’s item book, Oldham has launched two new lines for Target (and museum shops around the world) including Kid Made Modern, high-quality art supplies for children. “It started with a book, and it was a love note to my parents because they spent endless time with my brothers and sisters and I teaching us everything they knew how to do,” he said. “They were constantly engaging us in something, and I realized that that wasn’t normal, and I know a lot of things are slipping away, people aren’t talking, so I thought, ‘why don’t we figure out how to share this information?’” From there, the collection expanded into everything from brushes to paints and colored pencils. “If you’ve ever worked with bad materials, there’s nothing worse,” said Oldham. “It can either frustrate you and turn you away, or worse, hurt your confidence and make you think that you’re the problem, which is so sad. So, I’m very proud of that.”

His two most recent releases include Ed Emberly, based on the American artist and children’s book illustrator, and Strange Stories: The Photography of Gerald Davis, focusing on the Brooklyn–born photojournalist. “It’s turning into one of my favorite books,” he said. “He was a completely unknown photographer, and ‘un-Googleable’ if that’s a word. It’s like he never existed.”

As for his first visit to Modernism Week, Oldham said: “anything that celebrates good design certainly deserves a round of applause. I’m shocked to see how many people come for this. Like, I’ve seen people I know from Herman Miller and from all over America. This is a serious thing. Not to mention it’s minus-seven degrees back in Pennsylvania [where I spend weekends], so I’m very happy to be here.”

By Jennie Nunn

Pictured: Todd Oldham
Photo by: David A. Lee

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