a wild conversation
Jewelry Designer Presley Oldham and Cole Escola On Wigs, State Fairs, and Big Soups
For most of us, playing make-believe is reserved for special occasions—like Halloween, for example. But for the comedian Cole Escola and the jewelry designer Presley Oldham, make-believe is a way of life. Oldham, nephew of the illustrious American designer Todd Oldham, who has been attending lavish fashion shows since he was a baby, got his start making pearl necklaces for his grandma’s dogs. Escola, who has appeared on oddball cult TV shows like At Home with Amy Sedaris, Difficult People, and Search Party, has built their online following by bringing their outrageous characters—and collection of wigs—to life. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before these two big personalities found each other: this fall, Oldham promoted his latest jewelry collection by tapping into Escola’s genius with an infomercial-esque video titled MILF Gets Pearl Necklace (Late Night Shopping, S04E08, 2021). We at Interview couldn’t get enough — so we connected them once more to snap a few Polaroids of Escola decked out in Oldham’s finest, and for a wildly queer conversation about Spice Girls dolls, big soups, and of course, wigs.
COLE ESCOLA: Are you in bed?
PRESLEY OLDHAM: No I’m not, I’m on a couch. Are you?
ESCOLA: Were you sleeping on the couch, though?
OLDHAM: I was not. Not today.
ESCOLA: Where are you?
OLDHAM: I’m in Dallas, Texas.
ESCOLA: What for?
OLDHAM: The State Fair of Texas. I came back for that this year and to see some family.
ESCOLA: What’s the big attraction at the Texas state fair?
OLDHAM: The fried food, I believe. I can’t eat most of it, but it looks appealing.
ESCOLA: Why, because you’re keto? I guess you can’t eat fried food on keto.
OLDHAM: I have no clue, but there’s fried beer, fried butter, fried pickles… everything.
ESCOLA: And are there games? Because the only reference for state fairs that I have is the musical State Fair. So is there like, the biggest hog contest?
OLDHAM: There’s the biggest hog, there’s livestock birthing.
OLDHAM: I believe so, I’ve never visited this but…
ESCOLA: How do they time that! Do they induce labor? Is this what we’re supposed to be doing?
ESCOLA: I am home in New York. I just got my COVID booster.
OLDHAM: Did you go in costume?
ESCOLA: I didn’t go in a costume. This time I went as myself, but as myself from two years ago. So I guess in a way that’s a costume. But wait, are you done? Is the fair over? How long does the Texas state fair last?
OLDHAM: Oh it’s like a month, it’s a pretty big deal in Texas.
ESCOLA: In the musical State Fair, they come in a trailer. You’re not doing that?
OLDHAM: No, I’m not a carny at the moment.
ESCOLA: That feels like, kind of a slur.
OLDHAM: It does. I know it felt a little wrong out of my mouth… I don’t know.
ESCOLA: You’re canceled by the workers of the carnival experience community.
OLDHAM: Well, there is a Real Housewife of Dallas whose tagline was that she grew up in the carnival circuit. So they do use that word quite frequently on that show.
ESCOLA: Is the Real Housewives of Dallas real?
OLDHAM: Yes, it is! Well, it was just canceled.
ESCOLA: Canceled in the television sense or canceled in the triggering sense?
OLDHAM: Both! Yes, I only watched it for the first time in the last month, so I’m not the best person to ask about it.
ESCOLA: Do you have a favorite housewife?
OLDHAM: I mean, I weirdly grew up around a lot of these people. Some of them live around the corner from where my family lives, so I definitely interacted with some of them before. But it’s very entertaining and all of their accents, they’re very comforting to me, so I just had it on in the background while I was making the last collection.
ESCOLA: So you grew up in Texas.
OLDHAM: Yes, I grew up in Dallas.
ESCOLA: And how come you don’t have an accent?
OLDHAM: Oh, because I went to theater school. NYU beat it out of me.
ESCOLA: Right yeah, of course. So it’s worth it?
OLDHAM: You know that’s what the student loans are for, my standard American accent. Where’d your accent go?
ESCOLA: I never had an accent. Oregon… there’s no discernible accent, there’s no discernible anything.
OLDHAM: Just you?
ESCOLA: Just me and Raymond Carver.
OLDHAM: Amazing. Well, what are you working on now?
ESCOLA: I made a big, big, big, big soup. I’ve been working my way through eating that for the past week.
OLDHAM: What’s in the soup?
ESCOLA: Oh God. Well, I get a big vegetable delivery every Wednesday, and then I just put it all in a big pot for big, big soup. It’s a big deal.
OLDHAM: That sounds delicious. I think the first time I saw you perform was in Bridget Everitt’s show.
ESCOLA: As her fetus!
OLDHAM: Yes, that was a show-stopping performance. It was spectacular.
ESCOLA: It was fun to do that show because she did a run of it and so, for a few weeks, was would hang out backstage in a diaper and bald cap for like an hour, and then I’d go out and do one song.
OLDHAM: And then go home in the diaper and bald cap?
ESCOLA: I would leave them there.
OLDHAM: Amy [Sedaris] was there as well, and I think I was with my uncle [Todd Oldham] too. It was a long time ago.
ESCOLA: And then we met Larry Krone for his “Look Book” for his House of Larrèon brand.
OLDHAM: Doesn’t he have two different labels? House of Larrèon and…
ESCOLA: Larry Krone Brand.
OLDHAM: I don’t know if we were fancy enough for the House of Larrèon, I think.
ESCOLA: I certainly got to pose in one look. You were just Larry Krone Brand.
OLDHAM: I was demoted.
ESCOLA: I was there the whole time but when was that?
ESCOLA: What a summer.
OLDHAM: Have you been watching anything good?
ESCOLA: I’ve been watching the show called the Duchess of Duke Street. It’s from the ’70s. It’s a British period drama about this woman who really wants to be a great cook and she’s working class, it’s the turn of the century. She ends up working in this rich guy’s house and then ends up cooking for the king and then she becomes the king’s mistress. But in order to be his mistress, she has to get married. It was this society thing where people would only have affairs with other married people.
OLDHAM: That’s so interesting, it’s quite a setup.
ESCOLA: I like it because she’s really unlikeable in a way that an American show would never let a female lead be that unlikeable.
OLDHAM: I need to check that out.
ESCOLA: Oh no. I don’t want anyone to watch it. It has to be my thing, for me. And to be honest, I don’t think anyone would like it. It’s very slow and quiet. There’s no big hog contest or fried food.
OLDHAM: Suddenly it doesn’t sound very interesting.
ESCOLA: What are you watching?
OLDHAM: I just watched What A Way To Go last night, have you seen that? It’s from the ’60s, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Dick van Dyke. It’s Shirley MacLaine recounting her five wealthy husbands, all of whom died. It’s spectacular. The costumes are amazing and people are just recreating fashion looks from this movie 20 years later, nothing’s original at all.
ESCOLA: When did you start making jewelry?
OLDHAM: I started making jewelry when I was a kid, my dad made all the jewelry for Todd’s shows and my grandma used to have her own jewelry line as well, so I think when I was eight or nine I would sit and make jewelry with her and make necklaces for her dogs. They had a lot of pearl jewelry, which I found actually when I was living back in New Mexico last year. It kind of picked back up again at the start of the pandemic and clearly, I am still doing it.
ESCOLA: For me, the necklace in the Little Mermaid, the seashell necklace that Ursula keeps Ariel’s voice in, I remember wanting something like that. Also, the locket from the Secret Garden. Are there any iconic jewelry pieces from your childhood that you remember lusting after?
OLDHAM: My mom watched a lot of Absolutely Fabulous when I was a child, so a lot of the big, gaudy, Christian Lacroix gold jewelry that Edna wears, definitely stuck in my head. And then of course, the diamonds from the Titanic and her old hand clutching it and dropping it into the ocean, I remember crying after school watching that alone as like an eight-year-old.
OLDHAM: Well yeah, what a waste. But, you know, also just any old person crying will get me crying. The tears get flowing.
ESCOLA: I cannot watch Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.
OLDHAM: I can’t either!
ESCOLA: It’s too heartbreaking for me, and I know it’s supposed to be touching. I don’t think, of course, we should just put people with Alzheimer’s in a box and hide them away but… it wrecks me.
OLDHAM: It hits a certain part and just opens the floodgates. I’m glad he performed or can perform, but I don’t need to listen to it.
ESCOLA: I remember Julie Klausner once called their collaboration elder abuse.
OLDHAM: Profitable elder abuse.
ESCOLA: Now I’m thinking about other—not even just jewelry, but garments that I wanted when I was a kid. Like Jessica Rabbit’s dress. Well basically her whole look.
OLDHAM: Her body, her hair. I think, and I don’t want to date myself; Uma Thurman in Batman Forever. Batman and Ramen? No, not ramen, Robin.
ESCOLA: Batman and Ramen! Oh, that would be a great restaurant name.
OLDHAM: Poison Ivy, that outfit certainly stuck with me.
ESCOLA: Did you play with dolls?
OLDHAM: Of course. I was a big Spice Girls fan. Still am.
ESCOLA: You took them out of the box!?
OLDHAM: Well here’s the full story. As a child I took them out of the box, they had two different lines, they had the concert ones and some other version. So I had all 10 of them, played with them in the pool, left Scary Spice outside, she turned white because of the sun. Later on, when I’m in college back home for Christmas one year, my mom and I were drinking and ordered the full lot of them on eBay, so now we have them all in-box again.
ESCOLA: And, but what about the original ones? Where are they?
OLDHAM: They are somewhere in a bin, I do not throw things away. What about you?
ESCOLA: By the time I was obsessed with the Spice Girls, I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbies anymore but my workaround was buying Barbies for my friend Linda.
OLDHAM: Was she real?
ESCOLA: Oh yeah, Linda was real, but I would actually get them for her and then have to go to her house to play with them. I don’t remember, but I mean Posh was my favorite.
OLDHAM: Of course.
ESCOLA: Jasmine was my first Barbie. Are you driving back to L.A. or New York?
OLDHAM: Back to L.A. but what the audience doesn’t know is I think I’m moving back to New York.
ESCOLA: Everyone’s moving back to New York. I think when the pandemic started people wanted to get the fuck out and now that things are opening back up people are desperate to be where a lot of stuff is, and it feels like a lot of people are coming back.
OLDHAM: Everyone keeps saying, “There’s an electricity in the city”…
ESCOLA: I haven’t felt it. Do you have a favorite nail color name?
OLDHAM: I am not very well versed in the nail color name, but I love a weird color that’s slightly flesh-like.
ESCOLA: I had to wear this nail polish for Amy’s show (At Home with Amy Sedaris) and I remember it was called Dusty Raisin and it was a really drab purple with a sort of brownish sheen to it. I think about it a lot.
OLDHAM: That sounds beautiful. I want to buy that in bulk.
ESCOLA: I can’t find it anymore, which makes me think that I’m misremembering the name.
OLDHAM: That does sound like something Amy would’ve made up. Did the wigs come from your own collection, Cole?
ESCOLA: Yes, I used to keep all of my wigs under my bed, but I’ve been running out of space, so I got a storage space and they’re in storage now. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of comedians in wigs just sort of thrown on, in magazines and in life. So I wanted to build real characters and I wanted them to look as close as possible. I mean, I didn’t shave my chest or anything. One is a surfer girl and I decided she loves California, but she’s actually just going to the Rockaways.
OLDHAM: She looks a little bridge and tunnel.
ESCOLA: They all have names, too. The surfer girl was named Caitlin Jenner, just by pure coincidence. I can’t remember the name of the long-haired one. Oh, and the black-haired diva backstage, she was inspired by a little Shirley Bassey. She definitely had the song in a Bond movie.
OLDHAM: While smoking a cigarette.
ESCOLA: Absolutely. The rocker girl, who to me, reads like she’s trying a little too hard to be rock. Like, she missed the wave of 90s grunge and she’s trying to shoehorn that back into style, but it’s a little too calculated.
OLDHAM: Yeah, it looks like she’s just making money doing an Alanis Morrisette cover band. Do your wigs have names?
ESCOLA: No, but once I’ve worn it for a certain character it’s hard for me to wear it for something else.
OLDHAM: Did you get to keep your Chassie Tucker wig from Amy’s show?
ESCOLA: I know, it was a really expensive, nice wig.
OLDHAM: And you don’t deserve that?
ESCOLA: I don’t deserve that. I did, on the last day of filming, pluck a fake flower from the backyard on set in this little area where I would always wait to enter through her kitchen door. I remember thinking, “Oh this might be the last time I ever do this.”
OLDHAM: How nostalgic.
ESCOLA: I have to get it framed or mounted or put in a shadow box or something.
OLDHAM: Just put in a Ziploc bag.
ESCOLA: I saw Hello Dolly! like five times and I put the playbills in my freezer at some point. And I don’t know why.
OLDHAM: Are they still there?
ESCOLA: Yeah, so now anytime I open it and want to freeze some of this big, big, big, big soup that I made, I’ve had to scoot the playbills.
OLDHAM: Well, I’m glad you made room for both.
Hair: Kyra Bennington
Makeup: Alex Levy