People + Places

Designer Profile: Jonathan Adler

Having started his career ascent from humble and hardworking beginnings, Jonathan Adler could very well be considered a prime example of the modern American designer. In this designer profile, we’ll take a look at what made Adler into the established and loved designer he is today.

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Although Jonathan Adler’s name reaches far across the furnishing world (ranging from accessories to lighting to furniture to interior design), the designer initially found his calling in pottery. Unsurprisingly, with art-inclined parents (his attorney father spent much of his free time painting or sculpting, and his eccentrically styled mother made her living writing for Vogue), it’s clear to see they passed on the creative gene to the Adler.

It all began in 1978, when young Adler threw his first pot on a wheel at summer camp. Instantaneously, clay became his obsession. It wasn’t long before he acquired a wheel and kiln of his own and spent most days in his parents’ basement throwing pots.

Malachite Frames from Jonathan Adler

By the time college rolled around, Adler was nowhere near losing interest in pottery. While attending Brown University to study art history and semiotics, he frequently found himself at Rhode Island School of Design, molding clay into Chanel-inspired teapots and other pop culture and fashion-inspired pottery.

“You have no talent. Move to New York and become a lawyer.” Such words of wisdom from his professor would later lead Adler to trailblaze his own path into the design world. But initially, Adler took the advice to heart. Off to New York the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Adler went in 1990, where he spent a grueling three years at a talent agency.

Nixon Alpaca Throw from Jonathan Adler

Recognizing his deep-seated unhappiness on his way down the wrong career path, Adler finally decided to call it quits and go back to his passion. He landed a teaching position at Mud, Sweat n’ Tears, earning his keep in exchange for studio time to fulfill and ship out endless pottery orders from Barneys department store.

In 1997, after connecting with a non-profit organization (Aid for Artisans) that connects artisans in third world countries with the American market, Adler jetted off to Peru. He was bedazzled by the sheer beauty of the country and local artisans. So when he got back home, Adler began branching out into pillows, throws and rugs inspired by the colors and patterns he saw while in Peru.

Sputnik Collection and Meurice Collection by Jonathan Adler and Anemone Large Flush Mount/Sconce, all from Robert Abbey

Adler opened his first store in SoHo in 1998 for around $2,500 a month (unheard of now, but still a struggle back then). And he continued to stretch his creative drive by trying his hand at lighting and furniture.

It was around this time that Adler realized he’d made it. He overheard a customer saying on their cell phone, “I’ll meet you, I’m at Jonathan Adler.” That simple comment confirmed to Adler that he had a presence in the industry. Most of all, it helped him realize that he had never needed the approval of an authority figure to turn his passion into a successful career.

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After a crazy and tumultuous start, success had crept up on Adler before he knew it. In under 20 years, he opened 30 stores internationally. His many designs available around the world remain true to Adler’s aesthetic and his roots in pottery, all the while capturing the essence of modern American luxury. From his boldly elegant, fashion-inspired lighting designs to witty and chic home decor pieces, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Adler’s favorite design motto will continue to resonate: “If your heirs won’t fight for it, we won’t make it.”

Yvette C.

Yvette C.

Yvette is a Site Merchandiser for YLiving. Her deep appreciation for design stems from a background in art history and interior design. During her off hours, she enjoys ogling cute animals, reading, catching up on TV series, following blogs, and enjoying the quirks of California's Bay Area.

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