15 Minutes With STLFW Judge Todd Thomas
Native Midwesterner and man of fashion Todd Thomas has one of those STL-to-NYC success stories that sounds more like a cool indie flick than someone’s real life. Full of fashion, art, music and food in the early stages of the St. Louis cultural scene, Thomas has taken his early STL connections and crafted a successful career in the Big Apple as a fashion designer, director, strategic brand consultant and adjunct professor at Parsons The New School.
This week, Thomas returns to attend Saint Louis Fashion Week and will be a special guest judge for the Wear It: Fashion Challenge, the first event of its kind in the area that invites 10 local designer finalists to create a look inspired by an iconic or contemporary work of art. I’ve known Thomas for a while, so when the opportunity came up to ask him several burning questions, I couldn’t resist.
Sarah Stallmann/ALIVE: I first met you through your good friend Carol Crudden, who owned the iconic St. Louis boutique Ziezo. It was almost an Andy Warhol/Factory of sorts for creativity in the ’80s—can you tell us a little bit about your experience there and your involvement in that early fashion movement that was happening in St. Louis at the time?
Todd Thomas: What fond memories I have of a very cross-culturally inspired and active time. When I first came to St. Louis, I fell in with a group of cultural creators who participated different milieus: art, music, culinary, fashion, academic. It was all about cross-cultural support and creating a lifestyle: Fashion as lifestyle.
The communities then—as what I observe in St. Louis now—are really influential on each other. It’s all linked. I certainly made lifelong friends, like Carol (Crudden) and Zoe Robinson. At the time in the early ’80s when we were all exploring the beginnings of our work, there was a naiveté of youth, a fearlessness and an abundance of resources to work with. Venues to make and do were abundant, and still are compared to the large cities. There are important things happening in St. Louis, fashion being one of them. I am very fortunate to have that experience of developing my work in this community.
SS: You have such a variable body of work from costume design to women’s and menswear collections, to spending time as the designer for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Do you have a favorite project or accomplishment that you hold the closest to your heart?
TT: The trajectory of my career has lead me to a place where I’m most interested in how the fashion system at-large has the ability to empower and elevate people, communities and lives. Now I’m really into the the big picture of how we’re affected regionally and globally.
The meaning of luxury and status and appropriateness is all shifting, but at the end of the day, I’m still in love with the process of making a garment: the needle, the thread, transforming the two-dimension into the third dimension. Also some of my favorite projects are the least popular … like working with Cindy Sherman on her movie—an all-time personal favorite. As a professor of Design Communication, I urge my students to analyze the motivation and relevance in all fashion systems … high, low, fast, slow and the effects cultural zeitgeist has on how we make and transmit fashion ideas and products. To cull an approach that is authentic to self.
SS: Everyone seems to be fascinated with your circle of friends—which includes legends like Cindy Sherman and Debbie Harry and pop culture icons like Parker Posey and Molly Ringwald. Do you find that spending time with fellow creatives of a certain caliber has influenced your work at all? How do you remain grounded while in a world that seems almost surreal to the average person?
TT: Well … it’s all relative. We all face the same fears, frustrations, disappointments and expectations. We all have a desire to transmit an idea and be acknowledged. Ultimately, we all have fears and failures to deal with. I’ve spent many an after-yoga lunch with Parker Posey, crying in our quinoa over how we’ll never work again … how tough things can be, struggling for meaning and relevance. Or pondering how to muster motivation to approach the daunting task of a new body of work with friend Cindy Sherman. Like with any relationship, it’s an acknowledgment of the other.
As creatives, it’s important to have that camaraderie, empathy and even some good old competition now and again. But let’s face it … if you’re going to make something for Blondie, chances are you’ll bring your A-game! I’ve worked very hard and had wonderful opportunities to work with some established people who inspire, but the real inspiration and influence for me comes from the unexpected other.
SS: We are really excited to have you back in STL for STLFW. What are some things you are most excited about doing during your visit?
TT: I’m excited to come back! There are so many things I love doing here: shopping, eating, music. I plan on catching as much of STLFW as I can, including the “Apex Predator/Darwinian Voodoo” opening at projects+gallery and the Wear It event—I am looking forward to meeting the local designers and supporters.
Other than that, I always want to visit a few of my favorite places: Bar Les Freres—for a chic nosh and drink—the Saint Louis Art Museum, Olio for dinner, yoga, thrift shopping and a trip to Cherokee Street to grab a strong coffee at Mud House.
I love to take a drive over the Stan Musial Bridge. I’m in love with this structure… so beautiful and well-designed. I’ll have a look and take the tour of the Washington University Fashion Department. A visit to Skif and The Hill—a favorite neighborhood of mine—and a few other stops that I love to pop in to.
I’m also very excited to end the visit with Ms. (Alexis) Tucci’s NIGHTCHASER. The last time I was in town, I went to one of her events and it was seriously the most fun I’ve had anywhere in years. So forward, so progressive. Such a great integrated mix of people, the most open, cool, inclusive vibe and amazing DJs. What she’s doing here is a prime example of the progressive cultural relevance St. Louis has to offer. I can’t wait!