NEW YORK — There was a bit of turmoil in Toddville Tuesday, but the day ended tranquilly.
The morning routine at Todd Oldham’s Manhattan studio was interrupted by a flurry of phone calls about a New York Times article that said retail giant Target Corp. had decided to drop the home collection bearing his name it had launched only a few months earlier.
There was just one problem.
"It’s completely not true," Oldham told WWD. "It’s ridiculous. I’ve had quite a laugh over this. We just had a packaging meeting yesterday and have been working on the new line since August and it premieres in July. It’s absolutely not true…Target has been an excellent partner."
A spokeswoman at Target’s Minneapolis headquarters described the report as "far from accurate."
"We are continuing to partner with Todd," she said. "We have a significant commitment to Todd. It’s going to be great."
The article paraphrased Target Stores’ senior vice president, Trish Adams, as having said Monday that the store had dropped the Oldham line, as well as home products by Philippe Starck. The Target spokeswoman said the store will also continue to carry the Starck line. A staffer in Adams’ office said she was was traveling Tuesday and unavailable to comment.
Target has allied itself with several designers in recent months, adding the home collections from Starck and Oldham — Target is not selling Oldham-brand apparel — to a lineup that includes its well-established Mossimo garment collection. The company plans to unveil Liz Lange maternity clothes in January, as well as a line of home products designed by Cynthia Rowley and former Times styles editor Ilene Rosenzweig under the Swell name.
The Target spokeswoman said the discount giant, which operates more than 1,100 stores, will continue with its strategy of lining up hip designers, part of the chain’s broader effort to increase its cachet.
The designer strategy, she said, "has been great for us. Part of it is we bring these names to people who didn’t know them, but who do know them now and now they’re in Target."She said the company so far has been satisfied by the sales of products under the Oldham and Starck names.
The report stirred up industry chatter on the question of what will happen with Oldham’s name in the apparel trade. As reported, early last month Jones Apparel Group Inc. pulled the plug on the four-year-old Todd Oldham Jeans line. Executives with the $4.21 billion Jones said the official reason for moth-balling the line was its small sales, though sources close to the brand contended that the appearance of the Todd Oldham name at Target had hurt the line’s status with department and specialty store buyers.
It’s a common belief in the apparel industry that selling a brand into the mass channel will severely hinder its chances at higher-cost outlets. That belief will be tested on a massive scale next year, when Levi Strauss & Co. rolls out its Levi Strauss Signature brand at Wal-Mart stores.
Jones bought the rights to the Todd Oldham name in apparel, footwear, accessories and cosmetics in February 1999, a few months after the designer retired from the runway and closed his high-end business.
Anita Britt, executive vice president of finance at Jones, said Tuesday the company still hasn’t decided what it will do with the Todd Oldham name.
"We were doing a very small volume in the specialty stores, basically bottoms," she said. "Given our company strategy of building critical mass under any existing brand and product line, we temporarily pulled it back and basically tabled it to look at what the other opportunities were."
Those other opportunities could range from relaunching the line in another context — the jeans brand has gone through several incarnations since Sun Apparel launched it under the TO2 name in February 1998, before Sun’s acquisition by Jones — to selling the name back to Oldham or another buyer.
"We’re really wide open," Britt said. "We’d really be open to any option that was good from a return standpoint."
Asked whether he’d be interested in buying back his name, Oldham tersely said, "I really don’t have any comment on that."
A key question is whether Target is interested in selling apparel under the Oldham name. A source close to Jones said the company pitched a mass-priced version of the Todd Oldham Jeans line to the chain before pulling the plug on the brand, but was turned down. Jones and Target officials have not confirmed that claim.But observers suggested that if the Oldham home fashions line does well in Target, there’s reason to believe that Oldham apparel could sell there.
"Target as a store is brilliantly merchandised," said Michael Press, president of sales and marketing for Hippie Jeans at Azteca Production International and a former president of Todd Oldham Jeans. "I don’t doubt that they can do well with any designer name that they put in."
The question that remains, observers said, is how much weight the Oldham name carries with Target shoppers. Since retiring from the runway, Oldham has worked as a photographer and artist, doing projects for highbrow magazines.
While the question "Todd who?" might be enough to get one laughed out of the front row at Bryant Park, observers said it remains to be seen whether it’s one that Target shoppers can answer.