Once Adam Lippes had sold his contemporary luxury T-shirt brand, he thought he was done with fashion. At the time, he had what he calls a “dream exit clause”: leave New York, open a hotel in Brazil. But his heart had other plans.
“It kept hitting me: if I’ve already said all I had to say in fashion, what was the point?” he says, relaxing inside a private room at Nordstrom Vancouver. The thing he realized, though, is that he hadn’t finished the conversation. “I thought, ‘There’s too much I want to say, I have to try this again,’” he recalls. That was over three years ago, and if anything, it would seem Lippes has only expanded his vocabulary since then.
Under his eponymous label, Lippes designs luxury womenswear with the intention of it staying in a woman’s closet for her entire life. There is incredible thought and care behind each item, playing with sexuality and femininity, exploring movement and shape. “I’m not making costumes,” he declares. “I’m not making clothes that you’ll only wear once or twice or three times. These are pieces I want you to build on and go to all the time.”
He thumbs through some pieces from his Fall 2016 collection, pointing out the various luxury fabrics and meticulous hand stitching like rapid fire. There are culottes made from a crisp and colourful de Gournay pattern; a double-faced merino wool sweater; a long, flowing pleated skirt in a mystical silver; a cream blazer with long pleated tail; a cashmere knit sweater in hushed white; a long black skirt with a sensually high slit. “It comes from my lifestyle, and my friends’ lifestyle,” he explains of his motivation. “They want to be refined, which is not a bad word; they want to be elegant, which not a bad word; but they also want to be a little bit cool.” Refined, elegant, cool: the three words describe both Lippes’s design aesthetic and his presence to a tee. He grew up with an interior designer mother, which developed in him a deep love of the craft. It continues to inform all of his work (he even took inspiration for a previous collection from the work of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma), as does fine art—particularly private collection auctions. “I know everything that’s for sale at every auction house,” he says. “I just love private collections—it’s like peeking into their lives.” As such, viewing his creations is like peeking into his.
“I make clothes that you don’t throw away.”
There was a time when he did not speak of fashion, although it was short-lived: trained in university to be an investment banker, Lippes took an internship at a firm, but when they asked him to cut his long blonde hair for the position, he walked out the door. “I already knew then: ‘I don’t want to cut my hair and I don’t want to work here. I want to be a fashion designer and figure this out,’” he recalls. He had no education in the industry, but landed himself a job as a store manager’s assistant at Ralph Lauren in New York; when she moved on to the head office of the late Oscar de la Renta, she took Lippes with him. He remembers lunchtime on his first day on the job, when he boldly sat down next to the fashion icon. Though perhaps not well thought out, it did seem to work in his favour, and at age 26, Lippes became the brand’s creative director—making him one of the youngest ever to be in that role for a major fashion house. “Oscar was like that because he apprenticed for Balenciaga, so I think he understood the idea of helping to support—I don’t want to say talent, because that’s for someone else to say—but helping support anybody who’s eager, helping them find their way,” Lippes reflects. “Allowing me to learn on the job. I think about that a lot.” He says it now affects how he hires and handles his own staff, which has grown to nearly 20 people. De la Renta was “like a second dad” to Lippes, and was even his first investor when he decided to go solo. If only he could see his protégé now.
Lippes is a champion of the made-in-America mantra, as all of his clothes are handmade at his headquarters in New York. It is his combat to the “fast fashion” industry that churns out cheaply made items en mass; as he says, “I make clothes that you don’t throw away.”
He was hesitant to call himself talented, but it is an adjective that seems to follow Lippes around. His modesty has clearly kept him grounded, despite that he has a deep sense of pride for what he has accomplished thus far. His dialogue with fashion is far from over.
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