Jonathan Adler and Alexis Bittar Basically Have the Same Mom
The design guru and jewelry designer chat about their strikingly similar mothers and curate gift picks from one another. Plus, they're each giving away $500 for your own Mother's Day shopping spree!
Jonathan Adler and Alexis Bittar have had very similar career trajectories: In addition to sharing a love for irreverent design, they both had their eponymous lines picked up by major department stores for the first time within a year of each other—the design guru at Barneys in 1993 and the jewelry designer at Bergdorf Goodman in 1992. Even today, their paths continue to cross with Bittar's current Soho store taking up residence at the site of Adler's very first shop. But their similarities run much deeper as we discovered when we sat down with the old friends to chat about their moms in time for Mother's Day—now we know where they get their creativity from.
How would you describe your mom in five words or less?
Jonathan Adler: "Irreverent, hilarious, creative and smart."
Alexis Bittar: "Mine’s intellectual, artistic, modest, sophisticated and unexpected."
What have you each inherited from your moms?
AB: "I would say patience, and she balanced creativity very well with academics—she was a teacher, she had a doctorate in American history."
JA: "My mommy...what did I inherit from her? Most definitely irreverence—"
AB: "Her clothes. [Laughs]"
JA: "Yes, her clothes. I would like to think that I’m in some ways sui generis or self-created but I’m not. I’m 100 percent a byproduct of my parents—I am my parents and my parents are me, it's all one thing. So my mom is me—inherently."
What’s the best advice your mothers ever gave you?
JA: "When I opened my first store, which is where [Bittar's] store is now, she said, ‘Oh god, please don’t do that.’ And it’s because she’s very risk-averse, so I thought, ‘Oh, I’m doing the right thing.’ So that was the best advice she ever gave me."
AB: "When I won the CFDA, she was super happy but she said, ‘The most important thing is to stay humble and grounded.' And I actually think there’s a lot to that—"
JA: "You just didn’t do it."
AB: "We both ignored our mothers!"
How has your mom influenced your aesthetic?
AB: "My mom had a total appreciation for antiques and really spent the time, because she was a professor, just teaching me about classical antiques, Deco, Chinese sculpture—and I feel like I've used that in my jewelry. It’s been ingrained in my brain."
JA: "For moi, my dad was a very rigorous modernist, he was a lawyer [like my mom] but an artiste, and he was very into design that was super minimalist, Knollian—everything in my house was Knoll. But my mommy has a very ebullient visual sensibility—she made Marimekko curtains, always embraced color—so I am between sensibilities, like a minimalist with a love for color."
How did your mom inspire your career and where you are today?
JA: "I think [Bittar and I] both have had preposterous careers—it’s insane that we’re still standing because we’re both doing things that are risky and not things that necessarily go on to be successful. So for me, my mom was just really supportive when I decided to become a potter 20 years ago and that’s everything—she could have very well said, 'Get a job.'"
AB: "While my mom was getting her doctorate, she had two young kids and my dad was getting his doctorate as well, and they were both designing these handmade silk dresses for my grandmother's store in Boca Raton, Florida. Each of them designed in a completely different aesthetic and the design was kind of couture. But seeing them create something as a little kid, that just kind of goes into the recess of your mind—that you’re able to create as well—so I think on some level that helped. But then my parents were completely not into me designing jewelry. I mean, I was a dropout, so they were not into that—the idea that I was selling jewelry, they were like, 'Really? You’re going to sell jewelry?'"
Did your mom wear jewelry while you were growing up, Alexis?
AB: "She did, she loved antique jewelry. And my dad’s Syrian, so when they got married, even though they’re Christian, they still kind of followed that dowry and she inherited all of this antique gold. I think she loved jewelry but she’s very modest, so she’d wear something petite."
Is there a piece of your mom’s jewelry that you remember loving growing up?
AB: "She had a 1920s Chinese multi-teardrop necklace in 24-karat gold that I loved."
Does she wear your jewelry now?
AB: "No, she does not wear my jewelry and it doesn’t bother me. My mom’s really simple, elegant and understated. She doesn’t like to draw attention to herself."
Has your mom inspired any of your jewelry pieces in name or design?
AB: "Not really; I would say occasionally. If I’m doing anything that has an Asian motif, I think of this dress that she painted. She did this one cherry blossom motif that kind of stuck with me."
What about you Jonathan, has your mom inspired any of your creations?
JA: "My childhood home is super inspirational. My aesthetic comes from my childhood house in various ways."
Is there a particular décor piece that you remember from your childhood home?
JA: "A fab, gigantic Color Field painting that took up almost an entire wall of our living room. I think about that all the time—just the color, design, all of that."
And how would you describe your mom’s style?
JA: "It’s kind of minimal and conservative. She wears solid-colored clothing and 100 percent Alexis Bittar jewelry."
JA: "Yeah, seriously. I always give her Alexis Bittar jewelry [for gifts] so you make my life very easy."
AB: "She’s come in to the store, now that I think about it."
Based on how you’ve described your moms to each other thus far, how do you think they’d interact if they were to meet?
JA: "It sounds like it would be on. They sound tres similar! Like smart, creative broads."
Now that you've learned all about their moms, check out the Mother's Day gifts Adler and Bittar curated from one another's lines in the slideshow below. And don't forget to enter for the chance to win $500 from both brands for your own shopping spree!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.