Dennis Scully: From our headquarters in New York City, this is Business of Home. I'm your host, Dennis Scully. Every week, I'll be talking to leaders and innovators from all corners of the home industry. I hope you'll join me.
Dennis Scully: This podcast has been sponsored by Fuigo. Discover the workspaces and business tools powering exceptional excellence in interior design. Fuigo's 18,000 square foot Park Avenue studio includes beautiful workspaces, and material and product samples from thousands of top A&D vendors in the world's largest lending material library. Now available to interior designers everywhere, Fuigo's modern project management software was tailored to solve the business needs of groundbreaking designers at Fuigo studio. Visit fuigostudio.com to book a tour. That's F-U-I-G-O-studio.com. And now, on with the show.
Dennis Scully: My guest this week is Jonathan Adler, potter/retail mogul. Jonathan, so nice to have you here.
Jonathan Adler: I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dennis Scully: It is a pleasure. The office was pretty excited about your arrival, so you have a lot of fans in house.
Jonathan Adler: Well, the office, everybody there is so super cute and millennial and like smart seaming. I kind of want to just move right then. Are you accepting internship applications?
Dennis Scully: Well, I think you'd fit right in here at the Business of Home.
Jonathan Adler: It so felt like home.
Dennis Scully: Right?
Jonathan Adler: Tots.
Dennis Scully: Although I feel like it needs a little bit more joy in our office, so we're going to have you work on that.
Jonathan Adler: There could be a few. There were some accessory opportunities that I spotted with my eagle eye.
Dennis Scully: Yes, yes. As you and I were just talking about, I want to quickly tell people your origin story because I feel like so much of what we're going to get to come from you being a potter. It's sort of the heart and soul of who you are and what you are.
Jonathan Adler: It is. It's funny. I'm 100,000 years old. I couldn't possibly be older.
Dennis Scully: And yet you don't look at all.
Jonathan Adler: I know. I'm 52. I think I look like am a poorly preserved 51, but I feel like I'm a 97-year-old woman with osteoporosis.
Dennis Scully: Stop it.
Jonathan Adler: No, it's true. Actually, I'm keeping it real. I look good for my age, but my joints are broken AF and that's probably largely due to being a potter.
Dennis Scully: Because it's rough, right? It's hard work being a potter. They make it look so easy in Ghost, but it's really -
Jonathan Adler: That is some backbreaking ass labor, but my point about saying I'm old I am and how long I have been at it that it's so funny whenever people want to talk to me about why I do, even if I couldn't be [inaudible 00:02:43] "So let's walk through your journey from the beginning," and I'm like, "Bro? How much longer?"
Dennis Scully: Oh, bro, I can't do it.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah. It's like my journey is so very long ago and it seems like such a distant memory, but so I'll zoom through it.
Dennis Scully: Zoom through it. That's the way we want.
Jonathan Adler: I'm going to keep this super zoom -
Dennis Scully: This is like Reader's Digest, condensed version of -
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, just because I feel like there's so many things that are happening to me today and they're happening in the world today. They're actually more interesting than my origin but I'll tell -
Dennis Scully: Exactly, that's what I want to get to.
Jonathan Adler: I started as a potter 25 years ago with no sense of business whatsoever and was just unemployed, desperate for some shekels, desperate for something to do and desperate to express myself and luckily I got an order from Barneys and filled the order, didn't know what an invoice was and eventually built a cottage industry and then after about five years as a full-time potter, building this sort of very, very ratchet cottage industry, the business side of it was pretty ratchet. The product was really fantastic. I was sort of selling to the most couture emporia in our planet.
Dennis Scully: Right.
Jonathan Adler: Then I got a workshop to make stuff for me, and over the ensuing years. I've built a business in which I have 17 retail stores and extensive interior design projects and millions and zillions and squillions of employees, most of whom I love.
Dennis Scully: Okay, so that's interesting.
Jonathan Adler: A little shady and salty.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, there's a lot going on in my world and life and that's my origin story.
Dennis Scully: Yes, right. Pottery as we said is at the heart of everything that you are and what you've become and do you still get to work with clay?
Jonathan Adler: Yes, I am in the studio all the time. I work in white clay and I wear white jeans, so when I have clay in my pants, you can't even tell and I'm just always in there.
Dennis Scully: That's every smart and white jeans is a signature look for you.
Jonathan Adler: It is my signature look and I got to tell you there are pluses and minuses to that. I saw a guy in my office today who was wearing this really nifty black pants and he looked great and I was just so tote jelly because I've backed myself into a corner with this signature outfit.
Dennis Scully: You've always described yourself as totally unemployable, right? Sort of jokingly you said, "I had a job when I got out of school." We should point first of all, you went to Brown. You're a very smart, highly educated guy. I don't why you thought you were so unemployable.
Jonathan Adler: I was unemployable due to my work ethic and character in the youth, both of which have soared since, but in my youth, I had a very poor ethic and very, very loose morals, not morals in the sense of like theft, but I threw it about a bit.
Dennis Scully: Yes, right. You might have been sleeping around -
Jonathan Adler: In the office, I was sleeping around the office.
Dennis Scully: I get it. I totally get it, but that's actually where I want to jump off because interestingly you say that you didn't have a good strong work ethic, but interestingly when the break with Barneys comes for you, you come to life as a business person.
Jonathan Adler: I came to life as an artistic person. I very much did not come to life as a business person, and to be perfectly honest, I don't think I have ever come to life as a business person. I think what I'm going to say will sound a little twee and instance here but I actually mean it. All I really care about is making shit. Like, that's what I care about. To me the business side of what I do has purely been a means to an end. I've been very, very lucky I've built a business in which I've made plenty of shekels and I have a very privileged life.
Jonathan Adler: That's all fantastic, but I still live and die based on the quality of what I make and my own personal assessment of the success of something I make. Again it sounds sort of virtuous, but I truly mean it.
Dennis Scully: Wow! Okay, so you didn't become a business person, but you became it sounds like a much more responsible and conscientious person, can we put it that way?
Jonathan Adler: I'm extraordinarily conscientious and responsible, like exceptionally and again though, it didn't come out like a sort of a sense of venality or actually a real neck for business. The business acumen that I have developed again has been in service of like creative impulse, and yeah, I'm extremely hardworking, extremely conscientious and reliable. I think when I was young I felt this sense of desperation. I think being unemployed and unemployable and kind of a bit of a failure left me with this sense of desperation, so still every day I appreciate every opportunity I have.
Jonathan Adler: I really truly appreciate when somebody actually buys my shit. That's really nice. There are a lot of choices in the world and my stuff it's not that easy. It's not dirt cheap and often I hope I make stuff that isn't necessarily challenging, but that sort of it has a strength to it. I recognized that it's meaningful when someone actually opens their handbag and buys my stuff. I've always just been kind of desperate. I can't even remember the question.
Dennis Scully: No, right. That's actually you've always sort of described what kept you going in the beginning was that you realized, "I'm desperate. I can't hold down a regular job" or so you say because you were so business snuggling all day with co-workers, right? When your breaks came, you took advantage of them and you joked, it wasn't a joke at the time, you didn't really know what an invoice was when they needed an invoice from you, but you went and learned as you seemed to have done every step along the way. You've seemed to have gone out and learned what you needed to learn to sort of take advantage of the next opportunity.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, definitely. As I've said, I've been at it a long time. I've learned very gradually. I didn't come into this with a tremendous amount of knowledge about business and I have just learned along the way and it's mostly common sense. Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Let's go through the timeline a little bit because I want to get to thing that are going on today for you because you got some really big things going on. When did the retail part of the business start to really grow and expand for you? You've got 17 stores now, right? When did that start to really grow? Because it was the early '90s when you had your first -
Jonathan Adler: I got an order from Barneys I guess in '93 or '94 and then I opened my first shop in Soho in '98 and I've kind of been opening them gradually and opened a bunch in the last couple of years. Retail as you can imagine is in a state of flux as is the world. It's been an extremely disrupted industry. Some of the sort of business paradigm that held through a few years ago have definitely changed. Like about five years every brand or design company all they were doing and were saying, "Where can I open a store? Where can I open a store?" Now, the same brands are saying, "What stores can I close? What stores can I close?"
Dennis Scully: Absolutely.
Jonathan Adler: That's the nature of life. It's like one needs to constantly assess and reassess and be nimble and I'm always trying to be nimble and I'm nimbling at the moment.
Dennis Scully: You yourself are trying to figure out where do I need to be, do all these stores need to exist?
Jonathan Adler: Exactly. I think one has to constantly assess it and sort of say, "All right, I opened all these stores. Is that still a relevant business model?" and the answer will be that it will be a relevant business model in some locations and not in others. There are still places where I should have retail stores. Not that I was indiscriminate, but I think the industry has this sort of indiscriminate store opening period that is very much changing and it's sort of retail real estate bubble is kind of bursting -
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Jonathan Adler: And will find its level I suppose, the market will find its level. There will be for a while landlords were greedy. It's always up and down and in flops and right now it's in a very volatile moment.
Dennis Scully: It's in a volatile moment, tots and so how is that playing out for you in your business?
Jonathan Adler: Well, I'm trying to really figure out which stores are really important, and as a designer or retailer or whatever the hell I am, I need to sort of be available to everybody at all time, so retail works with web and web works with retail and people can be in their store, shopping on the phone, so it's all kind of one big package. One just needs to be very, very analytical.
Dennis Scully: Historically, what was driving your decisions to expand in retail? What led to each store to sort of being open along the way for you?
Jonathan Adler: The delightful thing about my career has been that the bigger my business gets, the more stuff I got to make. That's what I truly care about and the reality is the more stores I have the more points of distribution the more able I am to work with manufacturers who might have minimums that they insist upon, so I need outlets to sell something. Like if I'm making a lamp and the minimum is 100, I got to be able to hawk those 100 and so the more points of distribution the better. That's what drives it.
Jonathan Adler: I know I sound Pollyannaish and sweet and I'm anything but those things. However, career-wise I really want to continue to make stuff, so the bigger my business gets the more stuff I got to make.
Dennis Scully: Right, so that's really what it's all about for you totally. Okay. The big thing that's come along for you recently and I think maybe you've been working on this for the past year or so is Now House with Amazon?
Jonathan Adler: Yes, Now House by Jonathan Adler, exclusively on Amazon.
Dennis Scully: Yes, which is really exciting and so tell us about that.
Jonathan Adler: It's so exciting. About a year ago, Amazon came to me. They were wanting to do a partnership with a home brand and they came to moi which was very flattering and exciting, and of course, I leapt at the opportunity because I've spent so goddamn much money on Amazon and I was desperate to like claw back a bit for my own self, so it felt like I was creating balance in the planet by taking some money back from Amazon and also because obviously what they've done has been incredible, epic, noteworthy, disruptive and inescapable.
Jonathan Adler: I want the opportunity to reach people where they are, where they shop and of course they shop on Amazon, and as a creative person, I also saw the opportunity to create an entire new-look world brand that still was a definite reflection of me, but perhaps a slightly different reflection of me. Like my Jonathan Adler stuff is perhaps a bit outre, more expensive, more couture, but the Amazon stuff is better than stuff. It's fantastic. It's really great. It's like kind of a younger sensibility and more attractive price point and it's really cool. I have a lot of it and I love it.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Tell me a little bit about the process. They reached out to you. They said, "Hey, we love what you do. We love who you are and we want to partner with you," and then what happens next?
Jonathan Adler: Well, what happens next I can either just for the purpose of the podcast be like, "And then you chat and you work it out … And then you make it easy." Yeah, it's easy and they were great, but the reality is that when one enters into a business relationship like this, it's extremely complicated. There's squillions of negotiations and issues and operational challenges and absolutely nothing is as simple as it appears. No complaint, just keeping 100. There's sort of the teams of people involved in figuring out how to meet the right standards and get things to the right price point and get the right volume and working with the Amazon team.
Jonathan Adler: It's fascinating and I've enjoyed it tremendously. It's been like a really, really exciting and fun and creative process, but as you can imagine or perhaps not, it's very, very complicated.
Dennis Scully: I can certainly imagine and I'm sure that it was the business school education you never wanted.
Jonathan Adler: Tots and I think that because this is a Business of Home podcast, I'm keeping it 100 about the business stuff just because I think that when people who are interested in this just kind of things often don't understand or realize what goes in to things in terms of manpower, finances, thought, operations, logistics. Like everything kind of seems cute and simple, but nothing is, nothing is.
Dennis Scully: Right. You've done a masterful job along the way of making it all look simple and easy as if it was all just pouring out of you and it all came easily. I mean share with us some of the challenges along the way.
Jonathan Adler: Again, I'm just being honest here because I assume your listeners are interested in the business side of it, so I'm keeping it 100. Of course, I want my stuff to feel effortless. I want my stuff to feel like it had always just been there. I think that when design is really, really good, it looks like it was uncovered rather than created, so it should have an effortless feeling and insouciant. It's funny my husband, Simon Doonan, is a brilliant writer. He is English and has a very English voice and I think his voice is extremely witty and very, very chatty in conversation and so his writing seems like it was just sort of thrown off, like you felt like in a room with him, but if you could see the blood, sweat and tears that goes with that -
Dennis Scully: [inaudible 00:18:43] over that.
Jonathan Adler: To create a chatty conversational voice is like I think it's the hardest voice to have as a writer. I think the core layer applies to my work. We're both in very similar creative positions. What was the question?
Dennis Scully: Let me stay with Simon for a moment because you two seemed to have, and Simon's amazing, this incredible partnership, obviously this very long-term relationship and married in 2008, but you've been together for 24 -
Jonathan Adler: Twenty-four years.
Dennis Scully: Twenty-four years, so it seems as if he's a very supportive and inspirational partner for you.
Jonathan Adler: It is funny because Slimon as I call him among other things and I have been together forever, we're very much aligned, I think in as much as people think about us, which is probably not enough, I think people should think even way -
Dennis Scully: More than they are -
Jonathan Adler: Yes, they should constantly be thinking about us.
Dennis Scully: What else are they thinking about?
Jonathan Adler: I don't really get it. I'm thinking about us all the time, so I don't ever know whatever else are thinking about, but it is funny. I think people, in as much as they think about us, want us to be this like supportive, inspirational like couple there for each there -
Dennis Scully: Don't shatter my illusions about that.
Jonathan Adler: No, we're basically just kind of one-person at this point. We've been together forever. It's like, I don't know. We just have a very, very shared world views, flexibility point of view and but mostly we're just like any old married idiotic couple bickering over the remote control and fighting over who made the last cup of tea. He is of course a creative genius and that's his professional life at home. He's just that guy on the sofa and actually watching tele.
Dennis Scully: The sofa which you're constantly changing out as you use home as sort of a little creative space for you.
Jonathan Adler: Bro, my poor. Actually, [inaudible 00:20:51] about Simon. He's a very, very poor long-suffering husband who comes home to a new decorating scheme on the daily as I Auntie Mame my way through life, and in that sense, he's very long suffering. It's a new sofa every day.
Dennis Scully: Yes and I can imagine that's not easy for him.
Jonathan Adler: My god, it's not. No.
Dennis Scully: Yes, well, he's very patient, and as you say long suffering, but you guys have a great relationship.
Jonathan Adler: Yes.
Dennis Scully: I know that he has pushed you along at various times in your career.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah.
Dennis Scully: Perhaps stretched you.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah and actually this is a great opportunity for me to come out and say that actually we're more than just a couple. We actually are members of the trouple and so that you're hearing first. The third member of our relationship is our mutt, Foxylady, who is a gorgeous 12-pound little rescue dog who is really the anchor of our trouple.
Dennis Scully: Okay, you're officially declaring you are a trouple.
Jonathan Adler: I'm officially declaring myself a trouple.
Dennis Scully: This is big and we're breaking it on Business of Home.
Jonathan Adler: Breaking today and I'm really hoping now that we won marriage equality for gay people, I'm really hoping that soon the state and everyone will recognize our romantic partnership.
Dennis Scully: I sense in the recent midterm elections that people were really open to those kinds of ideas. I definitely -
Jonathan Adler: I think that's where we're heading.
Dennis Scully: Right? Yeah, that's totally the vibe I got from the turnout.
Jonathan Adler: I think. Anyway, I'm optimistic.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. Are you optimistic about the business conditions in general? I mean I don't want to get bogged down in politics.
Jonathan Adler: No, of course. I of course is a business person who manufacture stuff in America, abroad, all over. I recognize a lot of the challenges on every which side. I'm dealing with tariff issues as we speak. Before I came here, I was like in sort of, I won't say crisis but maybe sort of like an intense meeting trying to figure out how we're going to deal with the tariff issues and we'll see. It's just another thing that's happening.
Dennis Scully: But it's very real, right?
Jonathan Adler: Yes, I'm like on the frontline of shit. Conversely, I also deal with American manufacturing and see how the ways most American manufacturing has been hollowed out. I come from a farm and factory town from my childhood. I grew up in a town that was really like a farming and factory town that was decimated by the down turn in American production in manufacturing, so I've seen it all. Whatever happens, I'm always, always thrilled that I live here in America. I'm just trying to figure out on the daily. That's the truth.
Dennis Scully: But it does feel like a much more challenging environment right now than it's been for a while?
Jonathan Adler: I would say that there have been just so many disruptions just to use that trendy business word and my business experience, my experience of having a company for 25 years, it's just been that I kind of tried to stay on the steady path and constantly I'm just getting like sopped in the face when I least expect it. I've been through a lot of mishegas over the years and I've sort of learned to not get it twisted and just try to stay steady and kind of deal with things as they come up.
Dennis Scully: The question that you had forgotten earlier that we were talking about was sort of and you were great about sort of wanting it to keep very as you say 100% about the challenges of really growing a business, so we were talking about the fact that you've made it seemed effortless and kind of magical in the way all this joy just pours on out, but that really along the way I know there had been a lot of challenges and some things worked and some things didn't, right?
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, my 96-year-old grandmother, she died like 20 years ago, but I remember her saying to me, she said, "I can't believe it. When I was growing up I imagine that if I became an old lady I'd be like Whistler's Mother just kind of sitting there and afghan on my lap, just content and placid," and she said, "But you know what? The mishegas never stops," and mishegas of course is the Yiddish word for craziness. That's true. The mishegas never stops. Again, I can't remember what you're asking me, but I know that -
Dennis Scully: But I'm glad we covered your grandmother.
Jonathan Adler: Yes, but I know that I answered your question.
Dennis Scully: She seems like a very wise woman.
Jonathan Adler: We talk about this mishegas. There's mishegas -
Dennis Scully: There's mishegas and all the things going on.
Jonathan Adler: There's a million things that I've been through. I've been through a billion different iterations of mishegas and just kind of tried to stay steady, and a funny way, I'm not a parent and a funny way being a business owner is not dissimilar from being a parent and that you have these responsibilities. All kinds of craziness comes at you and you need to sort of be steady and responsible and deal with the stuff as it comes up. Again, I sound deeper and more philosophical than I am but that's the truth.
Dennis Scully: No, but you seemed more burdened about it than when I normally see you, so I feel like things seemed like they're weighing on you more than usual, would you say that's fair?
Jonathan Adler: I would say that, are things weighing on me? No, I think … I'm always two things simultaneously. On the one hand, I am a very, very, very positive, upbeat, I hope extraordinarily creative, free-thinking kind of glib and optimistic person who's like delights in and engages in the possibilities of life and then I'm also always and authentically a brooding political self-critical, doomsday naysayer who's skeptical and thinks will never work out and perhaps you're catching me more in a moment of the latter, but those two sides of me are always completely present.
Dennis Scully: They are always there.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah and I've said this before in another podcast but I'll say it again. It's funny, my husband calls me Ariana Kafka because he says that he calls this sort of glib upbeat side of me like Ariana Grande, sort of a fizzy pop princess and the brooding analytical side is Kafka's, so he says I'm like Ariana Kafka and that's exactly who I am and I think that's an essential combination to be successful in any creative endeavor because one needs to be creative and free thinking and open minded and one needs to be analytical in order to make your creative idea come to life in its good way as possible.
Dennis Scully: We're going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor, but we'll be right back. Discover the workspaces and business tools powering exponential excellence in interior design. Fuigo's 18,000-square foot Park Avenue studio includes beautiful workspaces and material and product samples from thousands of top A&D vendors in the world's largest lending material library. Now available to interior designers everywhere, Fuigo's modern project management software was tailored to solve the business needs of groundbreaking designers at Fuigo Studio. Visit fuigostudio.com to book a tour. And now, on with the show.
Dennis Scully: Let's talk about how you divide your time and your various efforts and creative endeavors. You have the retail shops which we've talked about and you love getting to make sort of more and more product that you can share. You're also an interior designer and how many projects or how much time is taking up with being an interior design these days for you?
Jonathan Adler: We always have a few projects on the go. Commercial, residential, we're working on a big hotel in Dubai right now and finishing up some residential stuff, so there's always a few things on the go. My true focus though is on designing product.
Dennis Scully: Like?
Jonathan Adler: I hope my interiors are sublime and iconic and fantastic and memorable. That's certainly my goal, but I hope that and I think that when I'm about to kick the bucket, I will probably look back on my product design as my real oeuvre. When I think of myself I think of myself as a potter, probably a designer, and of course, interiors are part of what I do but my real focus is on making stuff.
Dennis Scully: Okay, so are interiors something that you got to do because people sort of sought you out and really like your aesthetic?
Jonathan Adler: Yes. No, I never went into this with any plan to do anything quite frankly and I think interiors are just one other format for creativity which is again what I've always wanted my career to be about. I say yes to everything, and when people ask me to design an interior, of course I say yes because I'm thrilled because it's a fun design challenge, and yeah, I just say yes and I want to design and make more stuff always that I have a limitless hunger to make stuff.
Dennis Scully: The early break came for you. We've talked about Barneys of course, but there was also the Pottery Barn order which gave you some of the seed money you needed to really start.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah. I as I've mentioned was a full-time potter and making everything myself, and then after years of backbreaking labor, I realized that making everything myself was really an impediment to creativity ironically because even though I was of course making stuff, I wasn't really able to make a tremendously diverse body of work because I have to make it all myself. I found a workshop in Peru that could help me make my stuff and I got an order from Pottery Barn and suddenly it kind of gave me some shekels and some freedom, both in very limited supply, not a lot of shekels and not a lot of freedom, but enough for me to kind of feel a little less desperate and I opened store with the money I got from that order and yeah, that happened.
Dennis Scully: Okay, that was really the beginning?
Jonathan Adler: I would say as I look at my career I can certainly point to a few pivotal moments that have been inflection points and opening a store is one of them. Finding my first workshop in Peru was one of them. Yeah, there've been a bunch along the way.
Dennis Scully: Tell me what you think some of the other sort of significant turning points are for you.
Jonathan Adler: When my friend asked me to design her house on Shelter Island that was sort of a big turning point. I think getting an order from Barneys. What else? I mean there've probably been like 40 turning points I can point to but that few. I think one turning point was like designing my Muse Pottery Collection. It's kind of a turning point. There had been creative moments that have been really meaningful leaps forward.
Dennis Scully: When you started to expand the retail stores, what was the idea behind the stores? What did you want the stores to be all about for people that were coming to them and people that would be shopping there?
Jonathan Adler: That's a great question, and again on the business tip, we've always tried to kind of come up with some sort of brand statements that express who we are, what we're trying to do and those statements have evolved over the years. The current, we say modern American glamor I think that captures the spirit of what I do, but the retail stores have always just wanted to be an expression of my design style output of me, like they're extremely personal. As I've mentioned, I've been very lucky to be able to work in myriad materials and to make a ton of stuff and I kind of live in an eclectic environment, like my house is very eclectic, things with all different colors, styles.
Jonathan Adler: The only thing they have in common is that I made them all. I think that the retail stores it's a challenge. I think that if people came in they might get a feeling that they are in sort of a place with a singular voice, but I hope that they recognize that it's an eclectic voice and like I hope people come in and they're like, "Oh, this is cool and like they have somebody who made some pots and then they obviously have somebody who's like a passionate sculptor in acrylic and somebody in the store is a bench-made furniture aficionado and then they must have found some extraordinary lighting designer."
Jonathan Adler: My goal would be that somebody comes into the stores and feels like they're in the presence of a collective of similar likeminded, extraordinarily talented and creative people.
Dennis Scully: And really it's all been you.
Jonathan Adler: But really it's moi. That's kind of what I want. It's like design eclecticism. It's feeling of a sort of wander and exploration and surprise and content.
Dennis Scully: There's a lot there. They feel like there's a lot there.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, it's funny. There's a lot there. I'm a very, very minimalist designer. Like when I'm designing a product, I'm looking at it and thinking, how can I pair this back, what bells and whistles can I take away, so that the essential message, the gesture is crystal clear and whatever I want that object to say is said in the most efficient way possible? I just happened to make a lot of minimalist objects and I think when I put them all together in a store environment, there's a lot going on because I want each object to be very communicative minimal but communicative.
Jonathan Adler: I hope that there's just sort of overwhelming maelstrom of content when people come in and I hope they can handle it, spend the energy on decoding it, really look and engage with what I want to say because ultimately design is about communication and I just have a lot to say. I just feel like visually I have a lot to say.
Dennis Scully: What do you want to say to people? What's the message you want to deliver from these products that you're making?
Jonathan Adler: I guess I want to make things that are extremely memorable and that will stoke people's own sense of creativity, not that I'm that, I don't mean to sound terrible malevolent, but I think back to my grandmother, the 96-year-old mother, the mishegas never stops, she was an extremely creative person and her house was filled with all kinds of incredible objects that she bought in her travels and it's from a Mexican craftsman or a Danish painter or this, that and the other and she had all these objects that were very, very eccentric and very creative and singular and I would go around her house and look at everything and just be so inspired and excited.
Jonathan Adler: I think that my grandmother's possessions, her collections of stuff really inspired me to become creative and I think that that kind of sense of excitement that I got from her stuff is kind of what I hope to create in my own stuff. I want to make kind of eccentric, well-crafted stuff that I hope people will look at and understand that there was an author who was really trying to express something.
Dennis Scully: Right, right. Do people tend to buy? Do people want the whole sort of Jonathan Adler look or I mean do people come and they're buying lighting or they're buying some of the fun furniture pieces? I mean what do you find in the stores?
Jonathan Adler: I mean yes, yes and yes. I think I've been very conscious to try to create stuff that are a range of price points and a range of looks and materials. Of course, you can come in and pick up a little [inaudible 00:38:25] or you can get the whole shebang. I think the funny thing is that because I try to design eclecticism, I would contend and others might not agree with this that one can go into my shop, get the entire Jonathan Adler look and take it home, put it in their house and their friends could come over and think, "Wow! What an eclectic and layered look these people have gotten," rather than just sort of a bland kind of thing.
Jonathan Adler: I think that one's home should be very, very personal and I hope to just make it easy for people to feel like that they have a personal home even though it's for me, me, me.
Dennis Scully: Well, it looks and feels like Jonathan Adler, right? You've got a very distinct look and if people start bringing in a bunch of your pieces, right?
Jonathan Adler: I would actually say yes and no. Like it's funny, my house was just shot yesterday and the photographer was kind of looking around and she was like, "Oh, these are cool. These acrylic pills. Like where did you get those?" I was like, "Oh, I made those." Then she said, "What about this weird cabinet that's like has this hammered brass front in this kind of organic modern thing and the oak frame?" I was like, "Oh, I made that." She said, "Okay, what about the glass lamps?" There's so many different materials.
Dennis Scully: You're like, "Yeah, I made that, made that, made that, made that."
Jonathan Adler: I'm like, "Made it, made it, made it, made it." It's more a reflection of that, but there are so much I want to say, and in the current era of global sourcing and information stuff, there are so many opportunities to make stuff in so many different ways that I would be crazing out to take advantage of them, and as somebody who has started out making pots, there couldn't be a more analog basic primitive way to be a creative person. It's just me and mud and a wheel to see my world and my oeuvre expand from one material and just me to sort of these materials is really a reflection of how much the world has changed with globalism and globalization, the internet and technology.
Jonathan Adler: I am a lucky beneficiary of all that stuff. I make all over the world. I have so many different ways of communicating my ideas. I went from just being like a dude, mud and potter's wheel to a dude with like the world at his fingertips.
Dennis Scully: Who's helping you with all of that?
Jonathan Adler: Absolutely nobody. I do everything myself.
Dennis Scully: I don't believe you.
Jonathan Adler: Here's the deal. When you're in grade school and you're told that you must not cheat, everything you do has to be earned. You must not take credit for anybody else's work. Nobody tells you that when you're a grown up the exact opposite is true that if you're lucky, you can build a business or a career in which you have people working with you and doing everything and you get to take all the credit and that's kind of what I have been lucky enough to build a life in which I can sit here talking to you about me, me, me but the reality is that I have a team of brilliant, likeminded, creative people and we really are a collective of people making and designing stuff.
Dennis Scully: Is that the fabulous Fantasy Factory?
Jonathan Adler: Yes.
Dennis Scully: Is that where all the magic is happening?
Jonathan Adler: I call my Soho design office the Fantasy Factory which is a cheeky illusion to Warhol's Factory and I hope it is a place where we create fantasies. That's kind of the idea.
Dennis Scully: It's like Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
Jonathan Adler: It's Wonka. Yeah, it's Wonka adjacent. Half of it is super Wonka-ey because like half of the floor is kind of the creative side and the other half is like the real business side and all the business people are like working away and keeping it real and making it happen and then we're all like a bunch of freaks over on the creative side like making freaky shit and hoping somebody can sell it.
Dennis Scully: How big is your team now?
Jonathan Adler: I guess we're probably around 50 or 60 in the corporate office.
Dennis Scully: Wow! Okay.
Jonathan Adler: Needless to say like a squillion others in far-flung locales in all of the retail stores.
Dennis Scully: Got it. The group that's here, the group that's down in Soho, are they working on the interior design projects as well as the product development and all the various partnerships and everything?
Jonathan Adler: All of the above. Yes.
Dennis Scully: Okay, okay. Who are we partnering with these days? Who do we have partnerships going? Are you still doing the creative director at Fisher Price? Is that still -
Jonathan Adler: No, that was like a fun -
Dennis Scully: A one of kind of -
Jonathan Adler: A one of really fun experience. I have a ton of different partnerships and I wouldn't even know to begin listing them.
Dennis Scully: Right.
Jonathan Adler: Different categories -
Dennis Scully: There's a lot of brands that you're bringing joy to and [inaudible 00:43:29].
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, that's one of the really other exciting things about my creative life and sort of the creative world has been the move towards collaborations and partnerships that's really become a key business model I'd say more than ever in the last like 10 years and I've certainly been involved in that. I've partnered with tons of different companies to make stuff and collaborate and more.
Dennis Scully: What do you look for when you look at partnerships? I mean obviously a lot of people come to you and want to partner with you. What's your screening for that? What are you looking for in a partner?
Jonathan Adler: When the right company comes around, it just kinds of tingles my chakras and I know. I'm a very intuitive person. I'm an analytical and brooding person of course, but I'm not a great planner. Like I don't have a business plan. There are people of course in my team who do but I don't mean to sound like -
Dennis Scully: Luckily someone has to play -
Jonathan Adler: That junior varsity, like there's varsity players, but I'm a junior varsity thinker. For me, it's really kind of like what feels right.
Dennis Scully: Right, okay, okay.
Jonathan Adler: Otherwise, if you don't do it that way, then like what's the point? Creativity should be kind of magical and it shouldn't be too deductive.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Are there new partnerships that you want to tell us about? Something new that you're working on?
Jonathan Adler: I'm trying to think. There are ton and you're catching me on the spot and my publicist will supply a list.
Dennis Scully: All right, fantastic! We look forward to that.
Jonathan Adler: To be honest, like while you're talking at this, the whole time we've been talking about this, I've been thinking about the mugs that I need to throw because we're working on a collection of mugs inspired by the Village People and we're toying them ... Yeah, I'm like here talking about my stupid business but -
Dennis Scully: Right. You're really thinking about the mug.
Jonathan Adler: I'm thinking about the mugs.
Dennis Scully: What are you calling them?
Jonathan Adler: Well, this is it. Are you sitting down?
Dennis Scully: I am sitting down.
Jonathan Adler: This is where I had a brilliant brainwave and this is all like the Business of Home is giving a scoop because right now these mugs only exist in my mind. They don't exist. The mugs that I'm talking about don't exist. They will exist. They will be in stores probably in about six months, but I know what they're going to look like and I need to get to the studio and throw and I'm going to do that after I leave here, but here's what I'm going to call them, Macho Macho Mugs. Right?
Dennis Scully: Right. That feels so great.
Jonathan Adler: At first, I just thought Macho Mugs and I was like something is missing and I thought, Macho Macho Mugs. Yeah, Macho Macho Mugs.
Dennis Scully: Tots feeling that.
Jonathan Adler: Glad to hear. Yes.
Dennis Scully: Congratulations. That's big.
Jonathan Adler: Well, you guys can judge me because as I mentioned these mugs I'm talking about as if they exist are in my brain at the moment, stay tuned.
Dennis Scully: We're going to get to see what they become, right?
Jonathan Adler: I hope they become something good.
Dennis Scully: Are you making them for someone specifically, The Macho Macho Mugs?
Jonathan Adler: It's so ridiculous. I have this pottery collection I called the Utopia Collection that's kind of an ever changing world of pots and mugs and teapots and vases and stuff that have faces on them or animals and I've done different kind of themes like I did this really nifty group of hair mugs because I always love hair as a source of inspiration perhaps because I wasn't blessed with natural hair, so we did like an Afro Mug and we did a mullet and we did Flock of Seagulls and that was a collection. We once did a circus collection where it was like a juggler and acrobat and actually there was a half-man half-woman vase that I did and it was very ahead of its time as it turns out.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Jonathan Adler: Toying with gender fluidity. Yeah, the Utopia Collection has been sort of a platform to address different concepts and themes. I just did a collection called Eye-Con Mugs that are inspired by iconic eyewear, so there's like a mug that is half-Kanye, half-Run DMC. The strangest one has Lolita because she has this iconic heart-shaped glasses on one side and Booty Collins was the star-shaped glasses on the other side. The mugs are always two-faced, and yeah, I think the Macho Macho Mugs will be two-faced. There will probably like cowboy and Indian, cop and soldier and a recon construction worker and leather daddy.
Dennis Scully: Right. Wow!
Jonathan Adler: That's what I'm thinking about the Macho Macho Mugs.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Jonathan Adler: Again, it seems ridiculous because at the moment they are but an idea, but we shall stay tuned.
Dennis Scully: They are going to come to life.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, I hope so. I think the world has a Macho Macho Mug-shaped space waiting to be filled.
Dennis Scully: They're looking to somebody like you to fill that void.
Jonathan Adler: Then they'll realize like, "All right. That needed to happen."
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Jonathan Adler: That's what I think.
Dennis Scully: Exactly.
Jonathan Adler: But again, that takes Ariana Grande-style thinking and then the next six months of my life will be spent torturing them into existence and making them seem completely insouciant.
Dennis Scully: Yes, they will just happen.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, they'll just have happened, #12morewrinkles on my poor face.
Dennis Scully: Talk to me about the things that have given you wrinkles on your poor face because I feel like so many people want to hear what would you tell people today that you've learned along the way? What would you share with people who wanted to take their creativity and try and build a kind of business that you've built?
Jonathan Adler: This is where I am going to be what I'm not supposed to be. What I'm supposed to be at a moment like this is an Oprahesque figure, exhorting people to follow their dreams and read the secret and believe that all will work out and you have to really stick with it and it's going to happen. That's what I should say.
Dennis Scully: But I feel something darker.
Jonathan Adler: Something darker is coming, so stay tuned. I wish I could be just an avuncular and positive presence like that, but I feel like I would be lying because the truth is that it's very, very, very challenging to have a successful of one's own in design, and in as much as I have had some success, it's largely due to luck that's really true. I would say it's 99% luck and I think any successful person would say that or should say that if they're being honest and so I think you shouldn't think that you can achieve a unicorn lifestyle because most people can't. It's very challenging and frustrating.
Jonathan Adler: However, the part of me that I would the avuncular positive part would say that one can certainly have a thriving career in design. One can get a job, an entry level job and just work really hard and make yourself indispensable and I think that's definitely attainable. My head of design department is this girl. She's a woman who has been with me for 10 years and was a failed actress who came to me as an intern, spent like a week in my office and thought, "Oh, this place is great! I'm going to make myself indispensable," and she did. She just became an animal.
Jonathan Adler: She has grown to this well-compensated and a very fulfilling and hectic and stressful and challenging life, but she made herself indispensable and I would say she is a huge success and that she has a creative life. I think that kind of a story is attainable. I think you can start with an entry level job anywhere and just make yourself indispensable and that can happen. In terms of having your own business, it's very hard.
Dennis Scully: It's very hard. Okay and the hardest part is what?
Jonathan Adler: Oh, my god! I don't know where to begin.
Dennis Scully: Well, anywhere you want. I mean you really seem like you want to tell people that it is much more challenging than it appears. What are those challenges?
Jonathan Adler: Again, I don't want to be like discouraging. I just want to be realistic.
Dennis Scully: No, yeah. Yes.
Jonathan Adler: I just want to be realistic and say that it takes a real confluence of factors. Like the baseline is that you need to be smart, talented, creative, personable, charismatic. I'm not suggesting I'm any of these things, but that should be the baseline, smart, talented, creative, charismatic and then that's about 0.0001% of what's involved in actually making it work. The rest of it is financing and luck and resilience and stick-to-itiveness. It's a strange mix.
Dennis Scully: Okay, okay.
Jonathan Adler: I'm sorry. I suppose to be like -
Dennis Scully: No, our listeners thought that you are just going to be this jolly figure showing up sprinkling pixie dust and instead you are basically saying don't do what I have done. Don't go into this design business. Get out while you can! I'm like, "Wonk, wonk."
Jonathan Adler: I spoke at some Brooklyn design thingy a few years ago, and at the end of the design thingy, some guy came up to me and was like, "You were like more interesting and more real than I expect you to be," and I was like, "Okay. Thanks I guess. Like thank you." No, I said, "All right, well, I guess thank you but just out of curiosity, like did you think I was going to be like?" and he said, "Well, I just kind of thought you were just in it for the money," and I was like, "Dude, I'm a potter. Like, there's not a human being on earth who has ever said, 'I know. I want to make some money. I'm going to become a potter.'"
Dennis Scully: I am going to make things out of clay. That's a surefire ticket to wealth.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, that's a surefire. I think my point is just that I'm never what anybody thinks I am. Right. Good, bad or other, I'm always I'm never want anybody thinks I am. Anybody who's thinking about which everyone should be all the time.
Dennis Scully: All the time. Let's reiterate that. All the time.
Jonathan Adler: It should be everybody's preoccupation and if I'm not and then I'm just like, "Wait, what are you thinking about?"
Dennis Scully: Exactly.
Jonathan Adler: But whatever you think of me is probably false. Keeping it 100.
Dennis Scully: Right, because you are much more complex than that and as it turns so is having your own business.
Jonathan Adler: So is life. I think that's the thing and I guess if there's probably one message of this podcast is that, yeah, things are really like complicated and there are highs and lows and ups and downs and a lot of thought that goes into everything and I think for me again the main takeaway has been, yes, there had been squillions of vicissitudes and strange occurrences and stuff, but I think my mood can be up and down, but I hope the one thing that has remained steady is my creative output and that's truly in the focus of my entire business in life and I'm very fulfilled and grateful and kind of thrilled with all the stuff I've been able to make.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Jonathan Adler: I hope to make a ton more. That's my goal. Stay tuned.
Dennis Scully: Right. That's why you stay in it as challenging as it has been for you, right?
Jonathan Adler: Look, I'm also a very, very privileged person so I would never say that anything has been challenging. That would be disingenuous. All the mishegas that I do go through and as much as I'm certainly not like a trauma surgeon or soldier, it's not like those challenges at all, however, the business challenges that I do go through are all in the service of being able to make Macho Macho Mugs.
Dennis Scully: Yes, because you really just want to be creative.
Jonathan Adler: I just want to make Macho Macho Mugs. I want to be able to like wake up and think I need to make some Macho Macho Mugs and then have a business, a team of collaborators and resources to make Macho Macho Mugs and make them as good as they can possibly be.
Dennis Scully: I think they're getting better by the minute.
Jonathan Adler: I know right and yet they don't exist. They're just in my little brain. Again stay tuned.
Dennis Scully: But I feel like the more you say Macho Macho Mugs, like the further along they're getting. They're really coming to life.
Jonathan Adler: I think there's an inevitably and I think we all know it. It is happening. It's happening.
Dennis Scully: This really is and it's exciting. Let's leave this, I mean besides obviously the huge excitement about Macho Macho Mugs, I mean -
Jonathan Adler: I think all of America is wrapped up in Macho Macho Mugs.
Dennis Scully: Pretty excited about it. They're going to forget all of their cares and woes about the political climate and they're just going to focus on Mach Macho Mugs. I think. Once these comes out -
Jonathan Adler: I think I'm a little bit worried that the podcast is going to come out, the Macho Macho Mugs won't be in store for about six months and all of America will come screeching to a halt whilst waiting.
Dennis Scully: Exactly.
Jonathan Adler: Yeah. I'm worried. I don't want to be dragged down.
Dennis Scully: That could lead to the next recessions. That's what could the tip of the scales.
Jonathan Adler: You know what? I got to get to my studio and make those fucking mugs.
Dennis Scully: Could it not take six months, please? Does it have to?
Jonathan Adler: No, I'm going to drop everything. I'm going to tell my workshop to stop and just go into heavy production on Macho Macho Mugs that don't currently exist except for in my mind's eye.
Dennis Scully: Right, but they know the Village People, so they can get the idea of what Macho Macho Mugs might become. That should be enough for them to go on right now.
Jonathan Adler: You know what? You might want to hold on to this podcast for six months until the mugs are in store just to save our country.
Dennis Scully: Should we not air it until [inaudible 00:58:18]?
Jonathan Adler: No, it's not fair to our country and our national economy.
Dennis Scully: Wow! I am really worried. This could tip the scales. This could lead to the recession as everyone just waiting for mugs. Okay, let's end on a high note here and tell us what you're most proud of that you've done because you've done so many great projects and really fun projects. I mean, is there one thing that you're so thrilled you got to do or that for you is just the pinnacle of this creative work that you've done in your whole career?
Jonathan Adler: Oh, my god! I have been so lucky. I've done from things like the Parker, Palm Springs Hotel to the products I've made. There's been so many things that I've made and that I love. Like I'm very lucky like I was sitting in my house yesterday kind of looking around and been like, "Wow! That's so cool. This stuff is all really good and as good as it should be and could be and yes," but I'm always most excited about whatever I'm making next.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Jonathan Adler: Mommy doesn't rest on her laurels. She's looking up ahead.
Dennis Scully: So you're proud of many things that you've done.
Jonathan Adler: Proud of many but hungry.
Dennis Scully: You have always an eye on what is next and Now House, what do you want Now House to become, this partnership with Amazon? What is winning looked like with this partnership for you?
Jonathan Adler: The Now House brand looks like a win if I end up creating an entire world in which you can furnish your entire house and life now, making it look chic, trendy, timeless, affordable and fresh AF and photogenic AF. It's super photogenic which is ever more important than the Instagram age.
Dennis Scully: Everything from Now House can come to you right away? Everything can be now?
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, like their sofa will be dropped on your head by a drone. "Watch out. Incoming."
Dennis Scully: Yes and just wait until Amazon gets to Long Island City. I mean it's going to be right -
Jonathan Adler: Like when Amazon is in Long Island City, I'll think about a Macho Mug. It won't exist, but it will suddenly hit me because the drone will just like catapult it into my head. That's where we're looking in the future.
Dennis Scully: Does the partnership with Amazon, does it change your business fundamentally or is it just another sort of partnership for you? Is that just another extension for you?
Jonathan Adler: Nothing is just another extension. I'm passionate about them all. I'm truly passionate about them all, but Amazon is thrilling and exciting.
Dennis Scully: Yes, of course it is. It's huge.
Jonathan Adler: Yes. It's amazing! No, it's great! I hope everything is transformative.
Dennis Scully: It's open ended, right?
Jonathan Adler: Yeah, yeah. Open ended.
Dennis Scully: This can become as big as it becomes. The market will tell us.
Jonathan Adler: The market will tell us. Like equilibrium, the market's equilibrium will win out.
Dennis Scully: Yes. Okay, so the big thing that's coming is one more time, let's wrap up with it six months from now, what are we going to see?
Jonathan Adler: You're going to be clobbered over the head by a Macho Macho Mug drop from a drone.
Dennis Scully: That is really something to look forward to.
Jonathan Adler: You're welcome.
Dennis Scully: A drone drop of Macho Macho Mugs. Thank you so much, Jonathan Adler, for joining us. This has been great!
Jonathan Adler: Thank you such a pleasure. Peace.
Dennis Scully: Thank you.
Dennis Scully: Thank you again for joining us, the show is Business of Home and I'm Dennis Scully. If you like what you hear, please feel free to subscribe, tell a friend about the show and most of all, leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you again to our sponsor and our producers. You can find us at businessofhome.com. We're on Facebook or Instagram. We'll see you next week.