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Todd Thomas’ fashion vision is a metaphor for the post-war American esthetic landscape. His clothes evoke a time that exists somewhere in the Eisenhower era, when the country was prosperous, growing, and self-satisfied. But…thrown in is a dash of John Waters irony (particularly as seen in Serial Mom, Hairspray, and Cry Baby)--a sense that his retro designs aren’t meant to be taken entirely seriously. Todd remains true to form with his spring collection, which reminds me of Midwestern country club chic, but switched-on. His clothes hint at an undercurrent of sex under the crinoline dresses and elaborately constructed bras and undergarments.

American designers are Todd’s major influences. The classic simple line, beautiful construction, attention to detail and fine workmanship all add up to a collection that has something for everyone. If you’re long and lean, there are slinky, formfitting day and evening dresses, lovely wrap skirts with a sort of sarong feeling, and for the less lean and long, the delightful and also sexy cocktail skirts, sundresses with just a little shirring at the waist, and skirts for day with pleat fronts.

Todd’s studio is in Chelsea.

todd's bldg.gif (43535 bytes) When I go to visit him, I get off the elevator on the 6th floor. The hallway is an architectural time-warp. The tile, on the floor and 4 feet up the wall, is umber and brown, more likely to be found in a bathroom than a hallway.
todd's hall.jpg (6239 bytes)The office doors are wood, but painted brown. The upper half of the doors contain the kind of frosted glass that is meant to obscure.  Even though we’re on the 6th floor, one of the doors is marked 704.
room 704.gif (32491 bytes) The whole place is so Chandleresque, I expect to bump into Barbara Stanwyck, some stone martens thrown over the shoulders of her suit and a pair of nifty ankle strap shoes, strutting into Room 704 to ask the guy behind the desk to bump off her husband for her.
CU room 704.jpg (11740 bytes)Instead, I walk into Todd’s lovely white, clean and tidy studio, filled with luscious colored spools of thread, sewing machines, bolts of fabric, and other treats for the eye.

And what came next, was, to say the least, a breath of fresh air.

FF: You first caught my eye in an article in New York Magazine in 1993. And I just thought that your stuff was really different, and I never forgot it. I held on to the clipping--and I called you, in fact, at one point because I was interested in buying one of your dresses. And you told me to come down. This was when you were on 42nd Street. And I loved that particular collection. Was that your first collection?

TODD THOMAS: Uh huh. I’d say so, yeah.

FF: Can you describe to me what the concept behind the first collection was?

TODD THOMAS: It was, I think, at that time, a reaction to what had been happening, which was like status and power and glamour. So it was kind of, you know, on the other side of that; a little more utilitarian and…basic, with still an edge to it. And now what I’m doing is the complete opposite in a way. It’s a reaction to that being the trend, and kind of returning to a more individual type of look.

Cocktail skirt, embroidered, vintage silk
organza and tulle

FF: But there is a commonality, in a sense, because they all are evocative in some way of a past time.

TODD THOMAS: Well, there’s a subtext to everything that I do. It’s just a personal thing. I don’t think that it’s meant necessarily to be part of the consumed product. But there are a lot of stories that go into the design.

FF: Would you care to relate one?

TODD THOMAS: You know, they’re all very vague references against perceived notions of gender and class and I don’t know what--appropriateness and stuff like that.

FF: So you try to include in a dress that one may wear during the day, even to an office, some little edge that makes it ...

TODD THOMAS: Uh huh. I mean it’s all kind of a hateful expensive inside joke. Really what it is. And I don’t know that anybody gets it. And that’s okay. Because then, on the other hand, it’s like a product to buy, so ...

FF: Right. But I think as a customer you do get it. I mean I think you definitely do.

TODD THOMAS: It’s funny, though--the people that get it are not as many as the people that don’t.

FF: And why do you think some people don’t get it? Because if they see it on a hangar they can’t necessarily visualize themselves wearing it?

TODD THOMAS: I don’t know, because I think from a magazine editor or buyer’s standpoint it’s kind of--you know everything’s reduced to numbers when those people are looking at it. And I think, for me, it’s more about a personal client kind of business.

FF: Have you felt at any time that because you sort of introduced the utilitarian look as a counter-reaction to all the glamour and the power in the late Eighties, did you find yourself being copied?

TODD THOMAS: Oh, I can only fantasize that Donna Karan did, but I don’t think that anybody directly copied me, to my knowledge. I was a participant, I think, but I don’t think I have the exposure or influence to instigate anything like that.

Black rayon ottoman 3/4 coat


FF: But people watch you, watch what you’re doing.

TODD THOMAS: Some, uh huh, yeah.