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Creative Voices

Designer Jonathan Adler’s Modern American Glamour

Designer, retail entrepreneur, and potter Jonathan Adler.

Jonathan Adler is many things—designer, author, entrepreneur, and tastemaker—but he defines himself, first and foremost, as a potter. Adler’s eponymous design company creates furniture and décor items defined by a bright, fanciful minimalism; they are luxurious and witty but never impractical, truly in the spirit of the designer, who credits his success to “surrendering to failure.” In advance of his appearance as a keynote speaker at 2017’s Adobe MAX, we visited Adler in his New York studio.

Having been fired from every job he’d ever had, Adler decided at the age of 27 to pursue a career in pottery—a lifelong passion, but not something he was sure he (or anyone) could make a living at. In 1993, Barneys New York began selling his pots; five years after that, he opened his first store in Soho, establishing his unique brand of stylishly irreverent home goods. Today, he heads a design company with dozens of retail stores, as well as a thriving wholesale and e-commerce business.

This story may sound like a triumph of self-confidence, but Adler says his success was wholly due to “panic” and hard work: “I saw that there was an opportunity to actually do something and not be a complete failure,” he says. “I thought, ‘All right, I have to do this. I have to take advantage of it.’ When I got a little taste of success, it was intoxicating. I thought, ‘I’m just gonna work like an animal to make it happen.’ But it wasn’t confidence. It was panic.”

His pottery continues to inform what he does; Adler defines his aesthetic as “modern American glamour.” He says, “I try to be modern, and I’m very much rooted in modernism. I am American. I love the optimism and freedom of America…. I feel like only in America could I do what I’ve done, which is about freedom and optimism and glamour, glamour, glamour—always. I feel like everything I make should be memorable, and to me that’s what glamour is.”

Click on the image below to watch our video profile of Jonathan Adler (please note: the language does get a little bit salty in the video).