To the Trendy Music Television Generation Designer Todd Oldham is the Guru of Style

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

NEW York's fashion food chain begins with MTV. Designers watch it in a feeding frenzy once reserved for old movies. Fashion editors tune in as a way to stay channeled to The Next Big Thing. (New Yorker magazine writer Holly Brubach says she watches an average of two hours a day as she exercises).

Since August, 1981, when it first aired, America's music television channel has become a veritable research and development laboratory for what's new and what's sharp.

Four years ago, MTV decided to make its 49 million subscribers a fashion offer they couldn't refuse - a new all-fashion show aimed at an audience aged 12 to 34 and oriented to pop culture. Enter "House of Style," a fast-paced, jump-cut half-hour show hosted by supermodel Cindy Crawford. Because she herself is a fashion insider, Ms. Crawford has become known for eliciting inside stuff from some of the biggest stars in fashion.

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For openers, Crawford got Jean-Paul Gaultier to admit that his fascination with bras and corsets began when his grandmother drank vinegar to contract her stomach so she could pull her corset on.

One of Crawford's first designer guests, Todd Oldham, made such a hit with Crawford and producer Alisa Bellettini during his many appearances on the show that he is now the star of his own segment on "House of Style," making him the first designer in the United States to have his own TV spot, not to mention a built-in audience estimated at 4.8 million households.

His first segment, which debuted in February, would seem to prove all of Bellettini's claims for him: "He's a natural on camera, he has fun tips, loves doing things on the cheap, and is possibly the nicest guy you'll ever meet."

For his first "Todd Time," a three-minute segment that has become a regular monthly feature, Oldham took his viewers on a thrift-shop tour showing them such smart shopping tactics as:

* Looking on the floor whenever you see an empty hanger ("You can't put stuff on hold at a thrift shop, so customers find their own way of protecting their treasures until they can come back with more money.")

* Check the men's suit racks when you're looking for a woman's jacket.

* Inspect all good-looking pants regardless of size. ("Those size 48 pants in mint condition will make a great pair of paper-bag pants when belted around your size 36 waist.")

* Carefully examine two-piece outfits. ("The bottom may have a terrible spot, but the top could be perfect.")

Oldham says that one of the perks of the job is that he will be able to promote some of his own interests (dogs, especially Chihuahuas); home sewing (he has sewn since he was 9 and now has a contract with Vogue Patterns and Streamline buttons); other designers (his favorites in New York are Isaac Mizrahi and Anna Sui); and perfume. He will show his viewers what it takes to come up with a new fragrance - a show he hopes will be aired just before the introduction of his own new fragrance set for 1994.

In the sometimes exasperating coverage of fashion on television, which ranges from haute tacky to wildly misinformed, Oldham is feeding the fashion food chain with tasty stuff.

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