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The House That Adam Built

Adam Lippes (pictured above) is donating 20 percent of full-price online sales through January 21 to Haiti relief.

Buffalo native Adam Lippes has fashion design down to a tee

When pondering the elements of high fashion, the iconic staple known as the T-shirt rarely comes to mind. Let alone finds its way down the runway. To contrast with all the logo-printed and distressed tees out there, contemporary fashion designer Adam Lippes yearned to create a more substantial hallmark suitable for everyone’s wardrobe.

“I wanted to make a beautiful basic,” Lippes explains from his New York City showroom during a recent phone interview.

The result is anything but basic. Lippes worked with his team to develop their own fabric and even their own wash. Then the search was on to fashion the perfect fit. Lippes and his team spent six months getting the shirt just right. The staple is expensive, but lasts and leaves quite an impression.

“What I know is that once you try our T-shirt, you’re addicted,” he says.

So, how good is it? Well even Oprah took notice. The daytime dynamo not only ordered a dozen from Lippes but invited him on her program to hold a fashion show for his recently expanded line.

“Oprah’s endorsement was extraordinary,” says Lippes. “I mean, her call meant so much to a young team, struggling on every level to run a small business. To have someone like that call just meant the world.”

The appearance paid off for Lippes, with his company, then named adampluseve, selling 100,000 T-shirts over the next couple of days. There just happened to be an established X-rated site called Adam & Eve—part of the motivation behind the company’s name change to ADAM. The name similarity led to Lippes’ customers crashing the spicy site for three days.

Lippes had been working hard to make it in the industry long before Oprah came calling. Growing up in Buffalo, Lippes didn’t exactly have a lot of exposure to couture. He credits his mom for instilling his innate sense of style.

“My mother sort of looked very sophisticated and chic at all times,” he says. “Whether it was jeans and a T-shirt or a Chanel suit, she had a certain air about her.”

There also were his mother’s well-dressed friends, who hung out at his aunt’s Rue Franklin Restaurant. Lippes was inspired by this stylish clique.

Lippes attended Nichols before heading out to Cornell University to study psychology. He went on to learn about art history and architecture at the American University in Paris. Before his Paris experience, Lippes was on the fast track to become an investment banker. Upon returning to the states, however, he took a job at the Polo Ralph Lauren store in New York City, then moved on to Oscar de la Renta.

Though Lippes has never experienced any formal fashion schooling, he is a proud graduate of what he calls “the University de le Renta.” He had to wear many hats at the iconic fashion house, from opening stores to working with PR to licensing, all the way to editing the collection alongside de le Renta. That’s the path this ambitious student took to become the company’s creative director, calling it “a very focused climb.”

“I really had to learn about design and fashion on-the-job,” Lippes says. “I wish I could go back for a refresher course every once in awhile.”

Flash-forward to 2004, when Lippes decided it was time to pursue his own brand. He started by focusing on T-shirts and underwear through the aforementioned adampluseve. After Oprah’s endorsement and the name change, Lippes elaborated on his ever-expanding and surprisingly affordable sportswear collection.

“I’m trying to make elegant, sophisticated, wearable clothes,” Lippes says. “We pull a lot of designer customers who cannot believe the detail they can get at our pricepoint.”

ADAM also stands apart from other high-end brands by not stressing the trends. Lippes sets his sights on designing for his customer rather than creating a concept.

“We have to have the high-end pieces, there’s no question,” he says. “But it’s not the core of what I do. I don’t want trends to be what I am all about.”

The ADAM woman is on trend, just not trendy. Lippes describes her as an explorer with an acute appreciation of the refined nature of the collection as well as the details. And she definitely welcomes the below-average price tag. The ADAM man is her impressive counterpart, sporting beautifully made but not overwhelming clothing.

The Spring 2010 women’s collection showcases the sort of effortless personality commonly associated with the brand. The primrose print scoop tank introduces blooming color, which complements equally well the side drape short or the crepe georgette romper with cuffed sleeves. For a more dramatic effect, look no further than the ostrich feather skirt featuring a beaded waistband. Sultry with a touch of almost sheer innocence, the embroidered bustier dress may have to wait until summer to be properly showcased in Buffalo. Another embroidery-clad option is the shah metallic sleeveless dress, while the long bustier dress does its best to keep the maxi trend alive.

With such awesome offerings from his own house, why did Lippes feel the need to recently collaborate with Spanish mainstay MANGO? The designer explains that it was all about reaching out to a wider audience.

“I wanted to do MANGO because making clothing approachable is really exciting,” Lippes says.

The temporary collaboration featured collections for men as well as women and appeared in almost 1,000 stores. The ADAM line has its own three stores with plans to open more this year. The brand itself also will undergo an expansion.

“There are some huge things in store for 2010,” Lippes says. “It’s going to be a very exciting time for our brand.”

Even with all his success, Lippes has not forgotten his Western New York roots. He made sure one of his stores was positioned in Williamsville. The location has been extremely successful, and Lippes thinks he knows why. “I think I have a good hometown advantage,” he jokes.

It may have more to do with the fact that Lippes has provided Buffalonians with a much-needed designer source. Let’s face it—there aren’t a lot of fashion offerings in Buffalo.

“I think there is a great artistic scene in Buffalo, there’s a ton of creativity,” Lippes says. “[But] Buffalo’s not known for fashion.”

Lippes is very supportive of the region that nurtured him. He just participated in an event for Roswell which raised $50,000 for the Sandra F. Lippes Foundation. His philanthropic reach also extends outside of Buffalo. He’s even donating 20 percent of all full-priced sales online and in stores through January 22 to the American Red Cross for Haiti Relief.

Perhaps one of the most important ways Lippes gives back is by helping his interns and others looking to make it in fashion. Much like his mentor, de le Renta, Lippes hopes to impart an encouraging message to young designers even if that means discouraging his own, untraditional path to success.

“I would say go to school, get some on-the-job training, and then start small and very focused,” he says.

After all, staying focused is how Lippes built his fashion house.

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