Potter extraordinaire Jonathan Adler brings his happy-chic accessorizing skills to his new Dallas boutique
Jonathan Adler’s new Uptown boutique has been open for about a week, but until two minutes before we sit down for our interview, he’d not seen the final set-up. He scurries through the store for a few minutes, soaking it all in. “I love it!” he declares.
He should. The new Jonathan Adler boutique on McKinney Avenue in the Knox-Henderson area is chock full of Adler’s many designs — not just the pottery which launched his career 18 years ago, but playing cards, embroidered pillows, candles and clutches. If, as Steel Magnolias queerly observed, what sets man apart from the animals is his ability to accessorize, then Adler is the manliest man out there.
Adler’s products have been available in Dallas for years — including Barneys, where his husband of 17 years, Simon Doonan, is creative director (“I gave him my pretty years,” Adler jokes) — but this is his first free-standing boutique in business. And, he thinks, it’s about damn time.
“Dallas is a lot of fun — I’ve been here a million times and there’s always something fun going on here,” he gushes. “You know the stereotypes of Northerners [being uptight] and Southerners having fun? That’s so true. And I’ve always loved it — such an incredible art scene, and gay scene and style scene. And this neighborhood just feels so right for me.”
Indeed, it’s a bit of a gay enclave now along Knox-Henderson, with Adler’s storefront facing gay-owned Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams. “And I suspect there are quite a few more on the block as well,” Adler adds.
Adler is on a roll — he’ll open three more boutiques this summer because, he says, “I’m not getting any younger” — but in some ways, business bores him.
“A typical day for me is spent in my New York pottery studio, getting dirty and taking credit for my team’s creativity,” he jokes. “My goal as a designer is to ignore strategy and branding and all that business-y stuff. Just follow your heart.”
I point to one piece — a bisque lamp whose image is a repeated face, which shares an eye with the face on either side — as one of the stand-outs in the store.
“You picked one of those pieces I’m unbelievably proud of,” he beams. “When something looks right, it seems to have been uncovered rather than created.”
Still, Adler owe a lot of his business success to some Dallas icons.
“Todd Oldham is an old sister of mine — he gave me one of my first breaks in the business,” he says of the Dallas fashion designer. “And he and Simon knew each other independently. A lot of Dallasites have been supporters of me.” He also mentions Carlos Falci, who when he had a boutique, was one of his first customers. Dallas, he says, appreciates quality.
“I’m a fancy gay, obsessed with quality,” he trills. “I try to find the best workshops — I source a lot of my porcelain from China — there’s a reason we call porcelain ‘china.’ But it takes a lot of work to make stuff with a sense of joy. My main focus is making unimpeachably chic items, but I embrace color.”
That palette has helped set him apart in the marketplace. There is a summer-in-the-Hamptons vibe to his splashy designs with a strong nod to Palm Beach, but he says it all comes down to craft. “As a potter, I want to make things people’s heirs will fight over in the will.”
And that, of course, means a detailed eye and open idea of what works. He has some favorite themes — counterculture icons, like peace signs, abound — but Adler is always refining his craft.
“Simon is a writer — his latest book is fucking hilarious — and you know the cliché that writing is rewriting? It’s so true. In any creative pursuit, it takes analysis, patience, resilience … whether writing or potting. It’s a tortured process.”
It’s at this point that Doonan, who has been lurking around the store for a half hour, wanders over, vogueing his way next to Adler to add his two cents — although with Doonan, it’s more like five dollars.
“Our home looks like this with some vintage thrown in,” he says in that distinctive pixieish accent. “That’s the secret to Jonathan’s success: So many designers inflict their works on the general public but don’t use it themselves.”
And fashion designers who come out at the end of their runway shows in Keds and a Gap T? Doonan hates it.
“You want us to slap down $500 for that pant and you don’t wear your own clothes? And they all have menswear lines now, so there’s no excuse for it anymore,” he says.” Adler concurs.
“I design it all for myself,” he says. “The miracle of my life is that I’ve created a job where I get to make everything I want.”
And we get to share it.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.