Designer Todd Oldham wants to add style to your dorm room

Todd Oldham University has a very open admissions policy.

You can go there if you’re 4 years old or 40. You can go there if you’re a straight-A student or if you majored in cutting classes. At Todd Oldham University, it’s less about the books and all about the looks.

Oldham, the former fashion designer famous for his avant-garde dress designs, was asked by Target stores to design a back-to-school line of housewares, and he’s created a fantasy vision of dormitory living. His Todd Oldham Dorm Room collection of rugs, sheets and towels, alarm clocks, and beanbag chairs conjures up images of a college campus circa 1960, where all the students look like Tab Hunter or Gidget.

The collection, with its bright stars, bold stripes, retro colors, and varsity-sweater-style letters, is the focal point of Target’s back-to-school advertising and store displays. While it’s too early to say how many dorm rooms will be done up Oldham style come September, Target officials are calling the collection a hit. It’s selling well, but a lot of those notebooks and decorative dorm pillows apparently are being bought by kids who either have a long way to go until they are old enough for college, or by those whose college days are long past.

Jeff Grewe of Wood-Ridge, a thirtysomething shopper at the Target store in Hackensack, N.J., was buying one of Oldham’s multicolored, chenille area rugs for $12.99 _ the colors were a perfect match for his Sixties-style kitchen _ and an Oldham beach towel, $7.99, as a gift.

“It makes you want to go to college,” Grewe said of the collection. “I was the type, when I went to college. I got it over as fast as possible and got out, but you look at all this and it makes you think how fun it would be to go to college and to live in the dorms.

Two college sophomores shopping in Target on the same day were too busy with their lists of supplies for their return to the dorms of Georgetown University to pay much attention to the Oldham displays. Emily, from Bergen County, N.J., and Eliza, from Boston, were in the housewares aisles of Target, filling their shopping cart with basics like laundry pails and wastebaskets, but they agreed to walk to the Oldham display and give their opinion. One or two Oldham items would be OK, they said, but decorating your entire room that way would be “a little too put together,” Eliza said. They did, however, smile fondly at two versions of light-up dorm room signs, $14.99 each, designed by Oldham. One shows a foaming beer mug, and the other simply says “Partying.”

Oldham, 40, didn’t go to college _ he began designing clothes before he hit high school and produced his first fashion collection at age 20 _ so his Target collection may be inspired more by the dorm room of his dreams than by the realities of college life. But Oldham did homework before designing the line.

“I never resided in a dorm room myself,” he said in an e-mail interview with The Bergen Record, “but we talked to lots of college kids about their experiences and designed the line to meet the needs they expressed.” He also seems to have taken an almost motherly interest in making sure his college kids have everything they need. His $14.99 bath-in-a-bag is one example. “First-year college students are often really modest about sharing a bathroom with strangers, so to help make it easier we’ve given them a kit that has everything they need in the bathroom. It has flip-flops they can cut to their own size, a dop (toiletries) kit, soap dish, portable cup, toothbrush holder, an oversize towel that covers everything, and a great bag _ with wet and dry storage _ that holds it all.”

Oldham also was worried about getting those kids awake in time for class, so he designed several types of alarm clocks, including a super-size version with clanging bells ($14.99) and a foam alarm clock that can survive being thrown across a room (also $14.99).

Target executives also are promoting the collection as perfect for college grads getting their first apartments. The Todd Oldham “Kitchen in a Box” _ $49.99 for 85 kitchen essentials, including pots, pans, pizza cutter, utensils, and plastic plates, is a godsend for anyone who has to furnish a first nest fast.

Oldham said two of his most prominent inspirations for the dorm room line were “The Official Preppy Handbook,” that bible of Ivy League style, and the fashions of 1970s funk music icon Bootsy Collins.

The man whose designer shirts used to be priced at $4,000 is getting a kick out of seeing his designs on the mass market. He marveled during a recent appearance on the CBS “Early Show” that Target has produced more copies of one of his dorm decor pillows than all of his fashion designs combined.

“Target and I have very similar views about what’s important in design,” Oldham said. “We both believe that consumers crave design that’s smart and affordable.”

In the 1980s and `90s, Oldham made a name for himself by creating couture clothing inspired by such things as disco songs, garage sales, and hospital gowns. By the late 1990s, Oldham had grown frustrated with the fashion scene, saying it wasn’t much fun anymore. He sold his manufacturing operations and apparel trademarks and turned his attention to furnishings. He designed The Hotel in Miami’s South Beach and redesigned the Veruka nightclub in Manhattan.

He then welcomed the chance to make the drab, cinder block dorm rooms of America more stylish.

“From a design perspective, a dorm room is actually a great opportunity. Even with the challenge of a small space, it gives a college student a blank canvas to use to create a look that really reflects his or her personality,” he said.

Or Todd Oldham’s personality.