My Chat with Jonathan Adler and his Launch Party at KaDeWe Berlin
Hello friends! I have a very special guest today on decor8, Mr. Jonathan Adler himself! Swoon! I had the pleasure of working with Jonathan and his team recently because he officially launched Jonathan Adler Germany and I got to be a part of that, which was an absolute honor and career highlight for me.
My relationship with the brand started in 2006, when JA advertised on decor8, which really helped me to quickly gain credibility as a new journalist and blogger. I will always be grateful for his support. Later, I asked if I could work in his home for a day in 2011 to style and photograph it for Decorate, and he accepted gladly, another special moment in my career.
I’ve been around his products for years, I’ve watched how his collections have evolved, and I even own a lamp, serving dishes, Christmas ornaments, candles and bookends. I also have most of his books too, and last month, he signed one for me which made me so happy.
If you’re like me and don’t live near a JA retail store, you may have also only shopped his collection online, but good news for me now! He has a concession in nearby Berlin in one of the oldest, most famous and decadent department store in Germany called KaDeWe. In fact, last month he was in Berlin to launch his collection and I was there to meet him and see his latest creations up close and personal and it was great.
But first, the pre-party. I met JA the night before the KaDeWe launch at a swanky French bistro with a small group of journalists and friends/colleagues of his in Germany, including Dag, his new German distributor, and Micah, from the New York office. With us was also his London-based PR firm who were in charge of organizing the pre-launch and launch. Naturally I have to shout them out because they are the reason I got this spectacular invitation to work with his team in the first place.
Because it was Fashion Week in Berlin, the restaurant was filled to the gills with fashionistas wearing very expensive, and expressive, frocks. It was fun to be immersed in this gigantic French-inspired restaurant, eating schnitzel, sitting across from Jonathan discussing the horrors of nudity in German saunas, and general people-watching in this beyond loud hot spot, but the buzz and energy was just fantastic.
At his KaDeWe launch the next day, many of his fans showed up and all eyes were on Jonathan. A few were quite star struck, three of my friends’ hands were shaking when they walked up to him, because it was a big deal for them to meet their interiors idol. Luckily though, he’s a nice guy, grounded and funny, so the evening felt very relaxed and friendly.
I also respected so much that he offered to sign ceramics for his guests who purchased them during the party – I was so impressed and regret that I didn’t think to ask him for a signed piece. I was so caught up in the moment that it didn’t occur to me until I was on the train ride home that I’d missed out on such a special opportunity.
I must confess, I’m even more endeared to his collection than before I met him. Something clicked when we spoke, in the sense that I felt like he really works hard for his success, earned everything he has, and continues to show commitment to his brand, team and products. JA is involved in all aspects of his business and has a very close relationship with his staff but also with his workers abroad who are dispersed all over. He visits them, watches them make his products, inspects, gives his opinions, he's present and involved. Respect.
When I interviewed Jonathan, one of my first questions was, "Since you are always on the go, when do you even have the time to design new collections?", and he explained that while on the road, he’ll have an idea and immediately, he'll call his team and/or sketch the idea out. He also added a good point that I often think about a lot, "We are all very lucky to live in this age because the internet makes it so easy to get our work out there but also to run and manage a business, you can text or phone your staff instantly!", and from there, at least for him, it's done!
I find it worth mentioning a little about his background, since we always tend to judge someone successful as having had it all handed to them somehow. Jonathan openly shared that he grew up on a farm in southern New Jersey, definitely not in a hot spot for design. He explained that this somewhat mundane environment fueled his creativity because he aspired for more - to dream and design.
I asked him about what he thinks when young people come from similar places, not from the hot spots like New York City where he has lived now for many years, and he responded without hesitation that he actually worries about the kids in NYC that he knows, because they are growing up so privileged with everything handed to them, and he wonders what they will have to look forward to someday. I was touched by his honesty, because often when you are flying among the stars all day, you lose touch with reality and forget how most of the world lives. I can tell Jonathan has never lost touch with his roots and that he is relatable and genuine and this made me see him and his work in a whole new way. For me, it gave me a clearer picture of who he really is and before, that was always missing.
We also chatted about his overall line, as it has evolved since years back. He has grown it in a more sophisticated direction, which I like, because it fits his products and price point much better, while still retaining his tongue-in-cheek wit that made him famous in the first place. I believe that his sense-of-humor (combined with his obvious talent) really put him on the map because he came into design with his unexpected and eccentric pieces at a time when design was still pretty serious business in the United States. Vases were meant to be beautiful objects of art at the price point in which he sells at. But he challenged how we see objects. He made things that were cheeky and today, he still does. His humor is his strongest selling point, and it runs through everything that he designs, and I believe JA will be embraced by Germans since, once you really have a German friend, you learn quickly that all of the serious professionalism that they show publicly is often just one face; behind closed doors they are fun-loving, warm and quite funny.
I asked Jonathan to articulate how he personally sees his collection because I enjoy listening to how someone defines their own work. He explained, “I call it Modern American Glamour. Modern in the sense that I always try to make things that are new, creative and have never been seen before. American, as I feel like my stuff has an American-ness, which is impossible to define, but you can see it in my collection, an optimism, the freedom in America, so my work feels American. And Glamour, it’s another tough word to define but to me Glamour is about making stuff that is bold, memorable and shiny.”
We also discussed his philosophy when it comes to the home and how he feels about the things we bring into it and he explained, “Your home should make you happy and should be eccentric and personal. You should surround yourself with stuff that means something to you. Sometimes people just get things that are fine, and “will do”, and I feel like you should never settle, you should always seek the sublime.”
We spoke briefly about his line in Germany, since it just officially launched here, and how it’s been received so far by consumers. He remarked, “Luckily it’s been really well received, thank God, and gives me an excuse to always come back here… I think that to me a lot of contemporary German homes are quite minimal and in that sense my stuff works perfectly because my actual objects are minimalist.”
I thought about that for a moment, because I never in my life would have thought of anything from him as minimalist, but stepping back I believe what he meant was that you could take a lamp from his collection, or a vase, or a single object and place it in a more minimalist environment and it would still work and fit nicely. His objects only become "maximalist" when you place them all together or in spaces that are already very full-on and decorated.
If you live (or are visiting) Germany, please visit the official Jonathan Adler shop within KaDeWe on the 4th floor or visit Coop Raum Werk in Munich or The Interior Club in Dusseldorf to experience his products in person.
Jonathan, it was an honor and pleasure to meet you, and thank you so much for signing my book and for the time that you spent with me – it was a very nice few days in Berlin with you and Team JA! All the best, and welcome to Germany!
(Photos: With permission from the KaDeWe Group)