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Fashion / Style File

New York Fashion Star Walked Out on Wall Street, Gained Backing of Texas Billionaire

How Adam Lippes' Incredible Journey Brought Him and a Powerful Family Together

BY // 05.13.19

For New York based designer Adam Lippes, it was his long blonde hair (a la Joan Rivers, he quips) that inadvertently launched his fashion career. His seniors at Bear Stearns, the late investment firm, demanded after several months into his job that he cut his flowing locks.

Adios Wall Street, hello Madison Avenue. The young man who had long wanted to be in fashion, much to his parents’ consternation, walked the many blocks up to Ralph Lauren, and as he says, they hired him in sales because of his hair.

It was one of many anecdotes that the charming fashion designer with his school boy good looks shared in the River Oaks office of Courtney Sarofim on the day before the Bayou Bend luncheon and fashion show in which Lippes would present his pre-fall and winter collection. Far from the high-strung, unapproachable persona often associated with fashion design, Lippes’ engaging personality and design talent have won him the adoration of femmes across the country. Count Sarofim among them.

Today, the darling of well-bred fashionistas with a taste for design flare boasts his own line, is represented in 70 stores including Bergdorf Goodman and has a robust clientele pinging Net-a-Porter regularly for his creations. He had the cover of Women’s Wear Daily during the most recent New York fashion week, a phenomenal achievement.

“I don’t do runway shows, I show as a presentation in my home (an 1850s mansion in Brooklyn). So they don’t cover presentations like that. So with 100-plus designers, only five covers, and one of them is a presentation in a house without a supermodel… was really an honor,” he says. “It was a big honor. We’re growing very fast but very smartly.”

Women’s Wear Daily noted: “These are clothes for women who believe in getting dressed, adult clothes, yet with zero lady-fied baggage. They make a powerful case for the modernity of dressing with panache.”

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Billionaire Belief

With that success and his star clearly rising, the Sarofim family (yes, the billionaire Fayez Sarofim clan) has stepped out of its comfort zone to invest in Lippes’ business.

“We make lots of investments in the office. But we were not looking to invest in this kind of business. We are into oil and gas, real estate, shipping,” Courtney Sarofim says. “But this was a one-off because we believe in Adam and wanted to work with him.”

In fact, only days earlier, Sarofim had hosted a show for Lippes at the uber exclusive Lyford Cay Club in the Bahamas and early on in the investment process, Sarofim and her sister-in-law, New Yorker Allison Sarofim, hosted an intimate show for him in her River Oaks home.

“He was on the floor at my house selling the way those guys would sell, and it was like he hooked a whole army of Houston women by doing that thing. He personalizes it,” Sarofim recalls.

Adam Lippes 2019 Fall Collection; Photo by Jenny Antill
Adam Lippes 2019 Fall Collection at the Bayou Bend Fashion Show & Luncheon (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

That “thing” is the tête-à-tête intelligence between the designer and the client, a skill Lippes learned at Oscar de la Renta, where at the young age of 27 he became design director, that after spending a year at Ralph Lauren, both of which informed his contemporary oeuvre.

“Thinking of my design history, which is just Oscar, but Ralph being one year, working somewhere has a very big effect on you even if it’s just one year when you’re just starting out,” he says, acknowledging that he is adopting “the specialness of what Oscar did, the attention to fabric, and fit, and color, and exuberance and tempering it with Ralph Lauren where you just couldn’t make a mistake.”

Sarofim applauds the notion, saying, “I want to see him become the American sportswear designer of record, sort of like Oscar and Ralph rolled into one.”

The involved businesswoman, wife and mother of two is wearing Lippes, — a silk-lined black lace pant with one of his famed T-shirts and Christian Dior sneakers. It’s a high-low look that Sarofim can later change with the black lace, silk-lined top that matches the pant.

But about that T-shirt. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of her favorite things in 2007 and had the designer on her show. “I’m obsessed,” Lippes recalls her saying. She ordered three dozen and said that if she weren’t charged retail, she would return them all.

“They’re pima cotton, made in Peru, and we developed our own enzyme wash,” Lippes says.  You’ll have that T-shirt forever. They are incredible and as Oprah said, not to drop that name again, it’s a T-shirt that can take you anywhere. You’re at the office and you look great or wear it to yoga. You can do other things in it. [How much?] $95. Which is a good price for a luxury T-shirt.”

Fast forward to the Bayou Bend luncheon and Lippes works the crowd with ease, in many cases, the ladies flocking to him. They swoon over the fashions that are so skillfully constructed that one would expect the cost to be much higher.

“Everything is hand-finished, double-faced,” he explains. “The fabrics are beautiful. The styles are not crazy so the fabric has to carry itself. Everything is finished in New York.”

“But it’s not priced like Chanel or Dior,” Sarofim chimes in. “More like Stella McCartney.”

And so the orders were placed and placed and placed as Lippes scored another grand success.

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