Adam Lippes will be kicking off New York Fashion Week early by hosting a 10th anniversary dinner party at Majorelle on Tuesday night, with a glittery list of Swan-like guests including Molly Ringwald, Ivy Getty, Tory Burch and Deeda Blair.
When reached Friday, Lippes hadn’t yet had a chance to watch Ryan Murphy’s new hit series “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” but the designer’s brand of understated luxury sportswear certainly evokes those ladies, though today’s breed focus on much more than long lunches and gardening.
“We’ve really built the brand over the past 10 years in a very quiet-luxury way before quiet luxury was a thing. And I have really focused on the clothes and the customer,” said Lippes, who has spent much of the last few years on the road for trunk shows. “As we’re entering into this hopefully next 10 years, I want to focus on the sprinkling the gold dust of visual image, marketing, communication, PR, all that stuff we really haven’t done.”
In this next phase, he’s planning on having a spring runway show at New York Fashion Week every September, and has an aggressive plan to open retail — 10 stores in the next five years.
His next store, following the first that debuted in New York’s Brookfield Place in 2021, will open in March in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, home to his investors, the Sarofim family, and their fund-management empire.
“I chose Houston for a second store because we have such great support in the city. River Oaks is a beautiful shopping area, we’re right across from Dolce & Gabbana, Brunello Cucinelli is a couple doors away, Balmain is opening nearby. And it’s our first store that we are building from the ground up so that was an exciting process as well,” said Lippes. “I was just in Greenwich looking at store spaces. We have a really active plan for stores.”
Part of the success of Lippes’ approach so far has been achieved through community building, and creating one-on-one relationships with clients. That will still be important, but so will the bigger picture. Lippes, who currently has 40 employees, has hired a PR firm, and started working with an art director to hone the brand’s storytelling and create a new visual language.
“We presented our spring 2024 collection at The Crystal Charity Ball in Dallas last year, which was a huge thing and very customer facing. We’re doing the Best Dressed luncheon in Houston this year in September, which is also a very big customer-facing show. And I will still be going out to some stores, but it’s not really scalable,” said Lippes, whose wholesale is 70 percent of the business. “Me going to 20 stores a season is kind of maxing out. So I still will be doing it but maybe not quite as active as before.”
Lippes’ career has had several chapters. He honed his skills at Oscar de la Renta as creative director between 1996 and 2003, before launching Adam Plus Eve loungewear, which blossomed into a contemporary label acquired by Kellwood. In 2012, after Kellwood pulled the plug, Lippes bought back his name. A year later, he relaunched as a designer collection with a focus on timeless sportswear and occasion wear in exquisite florals and fabrications, made in New York.
Certainly, Lippes can always be counted on for a gala look, like the pleated black Delphos gown from the spring collection (indeed, dresses are his top-selling category), but he also wants to be selling bandeau tops and miniskirts to a different customer.
“There’s more to our customer’s wardrobe that we can be doing and we can also be dressing her daughter,” he said.
Even as he grows the brand’s retail footprint, he’s still devoted to wholesale, which is key for smaller brands, and mentions Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Kirna Zabête as key partners. “I’m so proud of our positioning” he added. “When I go into Neiman Marcus, and we’re sitting next to Dior, it’s like wow, yeah.”
Accessories, eyewear and beauty will come in due time, he hopes.
“My biggest challenge now as a brand is that no one’s ever heard of us. But when she knows us, she loves us. And she buys a lot from us. But she’s learned of me through me going to stores and we’ve been so quiet otherwise. Now’s the time to change that.”
Interiors are a huge inspiration for Lippes, whose homes in New York and the Berkshires have both been covered by magazines, and he’d like to delve deeper into the category.
He has a collaboration with British home retailer Oka on tabletop, and textiles and furniture are launching soon.
For fall 2024, Lippes is working with a stylist for the first time, Malina Gilchrist, and will be showing his collection at his studio next week.
But in future, he’s looking to the runway for more exposure. The two shows he has had in 10 years both resulted in the brand’s top-selling wholesale seasons.
“So they work,” he said. “Just look at all the talk about the Galliano [Atelier Margiela] couture show. When they’re done right, they resonate.”
As a small, independent designer in New York, Lippes faces the same task as his peers — cutting through the noise — and competing with the bottomless pockets big luxury brands have to pay for attention through celebrities.
Currently, Lippes’ business is at $35 million.
“Dior does $30 million out of one store,” he said. “So we have to be creative about how we market things. Because if we compete on the same playing field as a super brand, we’re gonna lose. My hope is that I can find a celebrity, or celebrities, whether music, or film and TV, that I can grow with…But I’m realistic that I may not be dressing the A-list because we can’t afford it,” he said, sharing his fantasy of dressing Amal Clooney.
“It’s not just the celebrity thing, it’s marketing in general, because the super brands can do so much of it. But there are smaller brands that have done a great job. I look at what Khaite has done, or Jacquemus. Their marketing has been pretty incredible, and they went by their own playbooks.”
He’s up for the challenge. “Getting the positioning right is really hard, making and selling clothes that resonate with a consumer is really hard. Staying in business in our industry is really hard. We’ve been able to get to the point now where we can invest in that gold dust to sprinkle on top of this little jewel of a brand. This is the fun stuff.”