JONATHAN ADLER: THE MAD POTTER
I interviewed this inspired potter/home furnishings guru and now star of Bravo's TOP DESIGN for last month's Genre. Here's the unedited version for all you knick-knack lovers. And do check out JONATHANADLER.COM for more info on his fantastically fab designs!
JA: Lady Bunny, how are you?
LB: Well, I'm just delighted with my new vase. I can't believe that I've inspired it, since I've always been more of a catcher than a pitcher, if you know what I mean...
JA: Now you have your mug on a jug!
LB: And in the same series as Twiggy--
JUST CALL ME JUGHEAD! THE JONATHAN ADLER JUG WHICH YOURS TRULY INSPIRED!
JA: All the stick-thin supermodels!
LB: It took me ages to even open the package it arrived in because I'm such a fan of your work. But my iea of spring cleaning is throwing away the dishes from Thanksgiving. But by some. By some error, I was placed on the mailing list for your catalogue.
JA: You mean I've just been wasting that postage?
LB: But I have marvelled over all of your work, starting with the black/white vases which came in out...
JA: You're making me feel old now--
LB: You don't need me for that, hon!
JA: They came out in 1994.
LB: And they're sort of your signature pieces--so graceful and distinctive. And I've always giggled at the names of your other creations.
JA: Now I do it all: rugs furniture--
LB: Even yarmulkes!
JA: I've covered all the basics.
LB: Do the yarmulkes sell well?
JA: Yes. Now you wouldn't know about this, but some of us have bald spots on the back of our heads and it's a great reason to find religion.
LB; Would those be the gay jews who pick up your yarmulkes? They are a rather fanciful print and not terribly masculine...
JA: No, but they are selling. People love a novelty thing. I have a novelty spouse, you're a novelty performer...
LB: No I'm not! I'm mainstream! This is Genre, dammit! What about the Disco Lady cushion? It's incredible! Is that a big seller?
JA: Huge! We can't keep it in stock. In our catalogue, we say it's "our homage to the hard-core hedonism of the disco era rendered in the paradoxically cozy medium of needlepoint”.
LB: Your furnishings are so bright and bold, do you find that people use them sparingly in a room, as they might cook with just a pinch of a bold spice such as cardamom?
JA: I call my whole design philosophy "Happy Chic", so it's about taking a chic design--normally people associate chic design with being dour and off-putting--so I try to make chic designs happy.
LB: You mention the wacky Lily Pullitzer as one of your influences. And I too have always grabbed every piece I could find from thrift stores. Lily used the wackiest, loudest fabrics but in tasteful silhouettes which endeared her to preppies. Your bio mentions that you fell in love with the preppy look. And the kooky side of preppy is so nutty—the green whales embroidered corduroy pants with a pink dress shirt and a gold shell belt.
THE LILLY PULLITZER BARBIE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO AREN'T FAMILIAR WITH HER PRINTS
JA: It's over-the-top and improbable but done with a sense of confidence that makes it irresistible. And even though I'm a raging jew, I looooove waspy Palm Beach style. I'm obsessed with it.
LB: Where were you exposed to it?
JA: First of all it was a vicarious situation, but I do spend a lot of time in Palm Beach and to me, Palm Beach waspiness is about having fun and excess. So I love it on a spiritual level and an aesthetic level.
LB: It's also a bit like "We're so rich that we can be eccentric. We're not new money that has to dress down."
JA: Totally. It's like "Fuck it."
LB: Now you got your start as a potter, and I think many gay men can certainly identify with the desire to plunge their fist in and out of a pulsating, muddy hole, but not all of them become potters.
JA: Well, I did have a super-foxy potter counselor. I saw him and I immediately signed up for pottery class. But then, I fell in love with clay and I couldn't take my paw out of that muddy pulsating whatever it is that you said.
LB: And the first things you made were…
JA: Bongs. I was a total bong-maker throughout high school.
LB: And user?
LB: And at one point, one of your instructors encouraged you to give up pottery.
JA: Yes, a very mean, very discouraging instructor. But in the end it was really great having her tell me that I didn't have any talent because I could just make what I wanted to make without looking for anybody's approval.
LB: Was her disapproval based upon your campy Chanel-inspired pottery, which were quilted to look like Chanel bags?
JA: Yes, I should really pull those out again. But I think everyone's development can benefit from having a discouraging crone like my teacher in the picture.
LB: Speaking of discouraging crones, you're in a long-term relationshi[p with SImon Doonan, well-known writer an bon vivant. I can only imagine what your digs look like. Is it the gayest place in town.
JA: Yes! It changes every minute. It's like an Auntie Mame re-decorating festival as I go off on a new giggly design fantasy. It's a real bank-breaker.
LB: But as their creative director, doesn't SImon get a lot of stuff from Barney's for free?
JA: Not really, and he stopped shoplifting in his 20's.
LB: Are there other designers who you favor in terms of home furnishings.
JA: Of course! My favorite, favorite, favorite people are Alexander Gerard, Bjorn Wiinblad--
LB: Ah yes! (nervously) I know them well!
JA: Of course! But they're both mid-century designers who are chic but with a real sense of fun.
LB: Do you feel any kinship with Todd Oldham?
JA: Todd Oldham was one of my very first supporters. A friend arranged a meeting with him and I was a nervous wreck--so intimidated! But he was so supportive and great and we collaborated for years. He's such a right-on sister. Love, love, love her!
LB: Now that her designs are at Target--
JA: Now she does Lazy-Boy.
LB: I saw a big Todd Oldham billboard. Is there a Jonathon Adler billboard going up anytime soon?
JA: My stuff is both at fancy-pants stores, at Bed, Bath and beyond and I have seven of my own stores.
LB: Is Bed, Bath and Beyond Bath nationwide?
JA: You are literally under a rock, Mary!
LB: And that rock is known as crack, Jonathan. Well, I'm not exactly going shopping for home furnishings when I'm out of town! But I saw some of your line at B, B and B and that's more accents--
JA: I do bedding, bath and beyond and tabletops. But the most stuff is on the website, duvet covers, lighting.
LB: Ah, I'm browsing your site now I see you've done on other piece inspired by me...the Fish lamp.
LB: Hello? Jonathan? Hello?