HELLO GORGEOUS: Mel Odom is having a New York moment, but it took 40 years of work to get there.
On Friday, his solo show “Gorgeous” will bow at the Daniel Cooney gallery. The artist will sit down with the novelist Edmund White on Saturday afternoon to discuss his career. Over the years Odom has done his share of covers, such as White’s “Forgetting Elena,” among others. Guests at this weekend’s talk will learn of his many pursuits — the most recent of which was a fashion collaboration with the London-based Qasimi men’s wear label.
The multidisciplnary talent Odom has three books to his own name. In 1991, he created his own doll “Gene Marshall,” based on a fictitious film actor from the Forties. More than one million dolls have been sold since it debuted at the 1995 Toy Fair, Odom said. Born in Richmond, and raised in the tiny tobacco town of Ahoskie, N.C., Odom earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in fashion illustration from Virginia Commonwealth University. After fine-tuning his artistry in London, he returned to his hometown before relocating to New York in 1975. Playboy, Time, The New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone are among the magazines he has worked for.
The artist met Cooney a few months ago while checking out another show at his gallery. Cooney later phoned Odom to set up a studio visit and then suggested an exhibition. On view through Feb. 23, the retrospective features an assortment of his drawings and illustrations including the 1988 “Crown of Wings” and the 1993 “Freddie.”
Last weekend in London Khalid Qasimi used several of the artist’s drawings for his latest Qasimi collection. Some of the artist’s portraits were printed on shirts and on the backs of jackets. Reading a recent fashion review that referenced his retrospective, Odom said he had not thought of it in those terms until then. “Afterwards, I realized that this is actually a retrospective of a 40-year career. I didn’t think I was old enough to have a retrospective. But I suddenly realized that I certainly was and this was happening,” Odom said.
“They’re very sensual beautiful images and the clothes are very tailored and very beautifully cut. They did very beautiful printings of the drawings in full color. The models look like they could be in their teens practically — some of them are. It’s these beautiful young man walking down the catwalk with these drawings from 40 years ago,” he said. “These elements are actually very beautiful together. I don’t know that I would have seen to put them together. I credit the designer at Qasimi for that.”
This fall the United Federation of Doll Clubs Museum in Kansas City, Mo., will stage a retrospective for Odom. “You can sit there twiddling your thumbs forever and feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I might as well just hang it up.’ And then suddenly something clicks in the culture and you find yourself having some pretty wonderful opportunities to show stuff that perhaps you have been doing for decades,” he said. “Gene came out in 1995. For a doll to exist as a commercial product for 25 years is quite an accomplishment in itself because things tend to come and go rather quickly within the toy business because tastes change. It’s always a new bunch of kids coming along even though Gene was made for adults. Perhaps that’s why Gene has lasted so long.”
Open to writing a new book, Odom said a doll is not on the horizon. “I’ve decided that Gene has retired to Italy right now. Who would not want to do that? I want to give it a rest for a while because it is very much a business. Fashion dolls are all detail. Every bit of them is a detail because they’re small — the right fabric, the right trim — all of that. In fact, I am relieved to not be doing that any more,” Odom said.