Jonathan Adler’s publicist snuck up behind me while I was chewing on a tomato-bruchetta hor d’oeuvre and admiring a dresser. “I want you to meet Jonathan Adler! …Oh god I caught you with food in your mouth.”
I professionally mumbled a “Nice to meet you” and washed down the crackers and mortification with a sip of champagne.
Amidst cameras flashing paparazzi style, Jonathan Adler and I were acquainted. We spent a minute discussing the pronunciation of my name, prompting him to ask my origins. When I said Syria, his response: “Ohh. Sorry dude.” We discussed the conflict for a while, which was a welcome surprise for a publicity event. I get the feeling that politics isn’t a topic for polite company at media events, but he was curious and knowledgeable and charming and elegant as all hell.
Not surprising, judging by his Austin store. His work reeks of a fearless boldness; an aesthetic colorful and calculatedly cultivated, congruent with his personality. Mixed patterns and colors are bravely set against each other. Stark whites, rather than existing as backdrops, are compellingly indoctrinated into the landscape.
Walking amongst the cascading visual landscapes of the Jonathan Adler store becomes a fascinating journey into the possibilities of color and the definition of chic. It’s difficult to pin Adler down to a specific aesthetic due to the wide range and eclecticism behind his work. Although guessing at his influences whilst wandering the store is bewildering, that bewilderment swiftly metamorphoses into inspiration. Shortly after interviewing Adler, I went home and re-decorated my house in a frenzied fit of, as he called it, “designspiration.” Here’s the interview:
Do512: So you have a degree in Semiotics and a degree in Art History from Brown–
JA: I do!
Do512: How did you get to design from there?
JA: Well obviously my academic credentials didn’t qualify me to do anything, so I was you know, free to do whatever I wanted, and luckily I proved to be a terrible employee… I got fired from a series of jobs and took to the pottery studio to recuperate, and never looked back!
Do512: I have an art degree. So I sympathize.
JA: You’re unemployable!
Do512: Who are your design influences? What art period/genre most influences your work?
JA: I guess my design influences, my holy trinity of designspiration, would be Bonnie Cashin, David Hicks, and Alexander Girard, each of whom were mid-century designers who had distinctive and idiosyncratic styles that were unimpeachably chic, but also full of color and joy and optimism. I try to channel their spirits in everything I do. In terms of art… God I have so many art loves. That’s a tough one. I’m gonna go with the classique and go with good ol’ granny Brancusi. [laugh] Mister Brancusi knew a thing or two about shape and proportion. And I would never say no to a little bit of Barbara Hepworth thrown in… I think you can see from my oeuvre that I’m kind of an eclecticist at heart. I have a lot of different influences from a lot of different periods, I’d say.
Do512: What’ve been some of your other less fabulous jobs–while you were in school, before your career as a designer?
JA: Well I luckily got fired from every job I ever had! Probably the stupidest job I ever had was, I was a secret shopper for a bank. Where I’d have to go in and pretend to be a customer and then report back on the bank employees. I always felt so bad for the employees, I’d always say they were 10 out of 10. I’m a man of the people.
Do512: You were a double agent!
JA: I was totally team teller, not team management.
In your new book, “100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life,” you suggest “napping in odd places–“
JA: Yeaaaahhh I’m a napper.
Do512: What’s the strangest place you’ve napped?
JA: Well probably when I was a full time production potter, it’s such a physically exhausting job that I used to… I built up a cottage industry, I had 15 employees. And with the music blaring and the lights on I would lie down on this clay covered couch and just like, pass out.
JA: So yeah probably my top skill, if I had three skills in life, it would be potting, delegating, and napping.
Do512: Your favorite holiday to decorate for?
JA: Oh my god. I’m totally–what’s that cliche–the cobbler’s children have no shoes? Do you know that cliche…?
Do512: That’s a new one for me.
JA: …Because the cobbler is so busy dealing with all his work he doesn’t have time to make shoes for the kids. And that kind of sums up me at home. I spend so much time making all the Christmas and Hannukah JUSH that I never have time to decorate at home.
Do512: Where do you see your work going in the future, professionally, aesthetically? What avenues do you want to pursue?
JA: I kinda say yes to everything. More, more, more! The more I design the more I want to design. I’d love to design a car. More industrial design would actually be fun.
Do512: It’d be crazy to see a Jonathan Adler car… The interior upholstery would be insane.
JA: Right! I’d hit that. Fuck it, why not.