For American designer Adam Lippes, it all started with an incredible T-shirt. When that shirt became one of Oprah‘s “Favorite Things”, Adam was thrust into the spotlight. Pretty impressive for a Western New Yorker who never attended fashion school. But Adam learned a lot on the job while working at Oscar de la Renta, and eventually became one of the youngest creative directors in fashion. He left to launch his own line in 2004, setting his sights on crafting the perfect T-shirt. Mission obviously accomplished, the burgeoning designer expanded to include women’s and men’s collections. Now his eponymous brand, ADAM, consistently appears on the runway and in the pages of magazines. Adam took a break from fashioning his Fall collection to talk about inspiration, partnerships, and Fashion Week.
The Fashion Spot: Are you participating in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week?
Adam Lippes: We’re in the tents in Lincoln Center.
tFS: Any hints on what to expect?
AL: It’s going to be very rich. It started with American Indian sort of point of reference for a few things, but all and all, it’s just the continued development of the ADAM girl.
tFS: So is it really stressful these weeks leading up to the big show?
AL: It’s the most fun time. That’s sort of the height of the whole thing.
tFS: Women of all ages seem to be drawn to your line. How do you manage to craft garments that truly defy age?
AL: It’s really important for me not to put an age on what we do. Just because I find that so silly. People ask for a target age and I really don’t give one. I know the age that the majority of the customers fall into, but when I travel around to stores I find customers from 18 to 80 donning the clothes. And I think it’s more about style than anything else. It’s about a woman who has her own style and who appreciates our style. That being said, I don’t make, for the most part, super-slinky, you know, tiny little things that women can’t wear. I’m very conscious to make clothes that a woman can wear. So maybe she’s 18, but she’s quite sophisticated. Maybe she’s 80, but she’s very fashion-conscious and she really has her own sense of style. I think that’s why it works.
Looks from ADAM’s Pre-Fall 2011 Collection
tFS: It’s always fascinating to discover your point of inspiration for each collection, like how the Belgian landscape architecture firm, Wirtz International, inspired Pre-Fall 2011. How do you know when something is right to develop for the line? Have you ever started working on a collection based on an idea and then realized it wasn’t translating?
AL: We always start with a point of reference. It’s really just something I like. It usually falls from an exhibit, often from the art world. But it could be this American Indian exhibit I’ve seen. But I’m really pulling the art pieces out of that. Then it stems from that and sometimes it goes in a completely different direction. Why it can go in a different direction is because the reference is there in my color choices and a lot of times in the silhouette, but it might not be there strong enough for you to be able to look at a piece and say, ‘Oh, that looks like an American Indian piece.’ What drives what I do is really our customer. It’s not so much exclusively by this inspiration. I’m not really a conceptual designer. So that is how it can not translate so well at the end of the day.
tFS: How did your partnership with the Kellwood Company take place, and what are the benefits on your end?
AL: Kellwood’s a very large company. They acquired us. It’s just great because we are growing so fast and they can help with sourcing, production. They have huge teams of people to help. And it’s run by a guy who came from Apple computer and Abercrombie & Fitch. He’s just a super cool guy, and really thinks out of the box. They can increase our growth trajectory in a way that I couldn’t do alone. I think we’ll open two different stores next year. I never could have done that on my own. So it’s been a really exciting union so far. It’s been about maybe six months and I’m looking forward to more. It’s just an amazing partnership.
tFS: So how big has your staff gotten?
AL: We did expand our facility. Now that we’re part of Kellwood, they’ve taken over a lot of our functions such as shipping, our warehousing, and accounting. So our corporate staff is not growing; certainly our retail staff is growing. One of the great things about [Kellwood] is they have a huge warehouse, a huge marketing team and an e-commerce team. So it’s not about growing our own staff here.
tFS: How did the brand end up moving across the pond into London retail?
AL: We’re at Harrods, Browns and NET-A-PORTER. We’ve been at Harrods for a year, and NET-A-PORTER about the same time. And we just got into Browns. It’s all part of our expansion. For Spring, we are going to launch at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. We’re also little by little launching all over Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.
tFS: Did you do anything for Fashion’s Night Out this past September?
AL: We had really just a great party. For me, it’s about getting people into the store, and the best way to do that is to have a party. We had a great DJ, who is super popular in New York City, and a big event. It was directly before our fashion show and I had to travel around to a couple of events, so it’s a crazy time for me, but so fun.
tFS: Has the recession hit you hard?
AL: Business, like everyone, was tough end of 2008 and 2009. We had to do things very differently. But business has improved immensely, so it’s an exciting time.
tFS: What are you working on right now?
AL: We are right now working simultaneously on Fall, Holiday, Resort and Pre-Spring. We ship 10 times a year.
ADAM look Pre-Fall 2011
tFS: I’m sure that’s where Kellwood helps.
AL: That’s right. Well, I [still] have to design it.
tFS: What other designers are you a fan of that are active in the industry right now?
AL: Obviously, Oscar de la Renta is a main source of inspiration for me not only what he designs but who he is. Otherwise, my favorite designer would be Raf Simons. I think what he’s doing for himself and Jil Sander is just amazing. He’s one of my favorites.
tFS: What star would you love to see in your clothes?
AL: We’re not that celebrity-focused. I love the press that I get out of it, but it’s not like I need to dress so-and-so or I need to be friends with so-and-so. It’s sort of not my thing. I’m so much more excited to see someone random on the street wearing the clothes. We just don’t focus on celebrities. A lot of celebrities do wear the clothes; a lot of celebrities buy the clothes. Jessica Simpson was just in the store [and] bought a bunch of stuff. But it’s just not something we focus on. Maybe we should, you know?
tFS: One of our forum members wants to know: what’s your favorite look you’ve created of all time?
AL: My favorite look that I’ve created of all time. Yikes. It was a strapless dress we did with feathers all over it, from Spring/Summer 2010 (right). Feathers, shells and beads. I really love that. It looked amazing on the runway; it wasn’t easy to wear but it looked amazing.
tFS: Do you ever log on to forums to see what consumers are saying about your line?
AL: A lot of people reach out to me through Facebook and through other means so I see it there. I tend not to Google a lot because you never know what you’re going to read. It can be all-consuming, so I tend to stay away from that.
tFS: What’s going on with your men’s line?
AL: I don’t believe in men’s fashions, I believe in men’s basics. The perfect sweater, a great-fitting pant, and beautiful fabrics. I really think men should be simple in how they dress. That being said, we’re only doing men’s for our stores. But everything that goes in the stores sells out. And I love the idea of having it only in our stores.
tFS: What about accessories?
AL: Bags and shoes are on the horizon. We’re doing a few bags for this Fall show. Shoes we’re doing with Manolo Blahnik for the show, but they’re complicated shoes, so when we can find a good partner to do shoes with us, we’ll do them. They’re very hard to do on your own.
tFS: What’s next for you?
AL: We’re launching a huge collection somewhere else; a different diffusion line. I can’t tell you what it is yet, but I can tell you we’re doing it. We are launching in 20 stores of Saks in February, which will be amazing. We’re working on distribution all over the world, and working on licensing for the first time. So I think you’ll start to see a lot of product extensions come around.
Check out what ADAM has to offer at shopadam.com.