One on One with Todd Oldham

Compassion inspires his design for living

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In the world of fashion and design, Todd Oldham is everywhere. Oldham, 48, has been featured on so many TV shows—most recently as host of Bravo’s Top Design—that you may readily recognize his mop of sandy hair, which, by the way, he cuts himself. Or you’ve seen the signature stripes and bold color palettes of his collections for Target, La-Z-Boy, or Old Navy, the mega-franchise that named him creative director in 2007. Yet, throughout his flourishing career in industries notorious for their use of animal skins and fur, this compassionate designer has not once compromised his vegetarian ethics.

Q When and why did you go veg?

A I became a vegetarian in the mid to late 80s. I just couldn’t get around fooling myself about what I was eating anymore. I loved cheeseburgers so much … the colors … the salt. I got fooled like the rest. But I stopped eating meat once I realized the really sad part of that experience, once I became aware of the reality of the industry. I saw some of PETA’s films and started educating myself.

Q How have you managed to thrive as a cruelty-free designer in an industry that’s anything but?

A I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve lost opportunities because of my position, but I’ve always been able to feel comfortable [with what I’m doing], and that’s worth everything. [Today] there are vibrant people in the industry, like Stella McCartney and Marc Bouwer, who design beautiful things that do not harm animals.

Q Color is such a driving force in your designs. Are the colors in your designs ever inspired by food?

A Absolutely. I love algae and spinachy, kaley things. I enjoy the natural colors of plants.

Q What colorful foods catch your eye?

A I love peppers. I recently made a Mexican lasagna with lots of really nice poblano and yellow-, and red-, and lime-colored peppers. It’s like confetti in your food. And I love edible flowers in salads.

Q Are you as creative in the kitchen as you are in the studio?

A Yes, I love to cook. I love food as a medium. I love the science, what happens to the molecules. I like to

read recipes in Vegetarian Times and all kinds of vegetarian cookbooks, though I don’t tend to use them very often. I’m more a flinger than a measurer. Or I’ll make my own vegetarian cookbook by taking an X-acto knife to pages of a cookbook that’s not vegetarian and removing them, or taping whole sections closed. [For a recipe Oldham does use, see Lettuce Risotto.]

Q You live half the week in a country home in rural Pennsylvania and half the week in a New York City high-rise. Why split your time?

A It allows me to garden. If I can do what I do during the week and then go to the country and make fried green tomatoes, that’s wonderful. Both sides of my life are really necessary for me.

Q What do you predict for the future of compassionate design?

A Compassionate design is here to stay. As we look at the way we go about things, we are realizing that our behavior has consequences. There’s a return to responsibility. Ultimately, we are less cruel everywhere. It’s the best trend I can possibly think of.

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