A Fashionable Mind: Holly Adam on FashionWhirled’s Friday:5ive

The fashionable Holly Adam and I met through the men’s wear industry but cemented our fashion friendship through our travels in Europe, during the menswear Fashion Weeks held twice a year. She was the protogé of Kal Ruttenstein, the inimitable Fashion Director of Bloomingdale’s back in the day (I’ll never forget the jogging suits and silver trainers that he always wore in flight. ALWAYS.), and an icon whom I followed about blindly — when she would hold court in Rose’s down a little alleyway in Firenza, carousing us for drinks poolside at the Villa Cora or in Milan at the Duca or the Gallia lobbies. In Paris, we’d see her for dinner at Dave’s Chinese or bouncing around with our pal and colleague, John Fowler, at Le Crillon.   She has this deep, infectious laugh and lovely way of carrying herself, a beautiful blended head of grey, even back then, and a style of dressing to die for. I was smitten! Holly left Bloomie’s years ago and launched into her own cashmere store in Connecticut, the perfect foil suited to her luxury fashion sensibility.

After closing the store last year, Holly has branched out, with one of her latest ventures, helping launching MakerBot, the new desktop manufacturing retail venue on Mulberry Street, below.

She’s also been a tireless advocate of our recently-formed MensWearNetwork group, which you often see me post about. Without Holly, “The Glue,” as one of our colleagues refers to her, we would be nothing!

FashionWhirled caught up with the stylish one this week for our Friday:5ive.

FashionWhirled:  What role does fashion or style play in your everyday life? How is that reflected in your past as a fashion director at Bloomie’s, as a prior cashmere shop owner and where you are consulting now?

Holly Adam:  I like to think I have surrounded myself with style, albeit very personal style. I happen to have a very good memory, and I live with and wear things that bring me joy, remind me of people and places, exceptional times and sad ones. As Mens Fashion Director for Bloomingdales, I travelled the world with a team of great people. I met exceptionally talented people from Mr. Armani to Mr. Versace. I helped champion the careers of many a “young designer.” I got to see it all, and the exposure forever changed me.
As an independent retailer, I learned more than I could begin to share. From the machinations of financial plans to the pure joy of opening a box of sweaters that I had a hand in creating, the small business life can be very gratifying. That being said, I’ve had the opportunity to recently consult on a clothing line named Slater Zorn (website coming soon). The tag line is Where Loyalty Meets Luxury, and we created a beautiful collection of men’s and women’s high-end, logo-less sportswear and accessories based on the team colors of large educational institutions across the country. I got to revisit some of my dear Scottish friends and do business with them again, as well as accessories form Italy, merino wools from New Zealand. We tweaked existing styles, made some styles our own, and played with lots of colors!
I just finished a project as the Retail Flagship store launch director in NoHo for a Brooklyn based technology company named MakerBot. Talk about moving into the next century! They make desktop 3-D printers, and those printers make incredible objects, useful objects, neccessary objects. I worked with folks that are trained as engineers, astrobiologists, artists, film and video experts who create some of the designs that can be “plugged into” a MakerBot Replicator 2 and then printed (i.e. MADE). As much as I hope they learned about the dynamics of a retail store environment from me, my mind was opened wide to a whole new world by them. Not to mention the myriad of ideas I had as it relates to objects sold in the store made by the printer, colors of filament made and sold, the potential for 3-D printing as it relates to the fashion business, and prototyping in general. Just one visit to www.thingiverse.com alone shows the potential………..and there are about 24,000 items on the site! One could spend hours just looking and getting inspired to create. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m all about ideas and creation!

FW:  What was your aha moment that led you into the fashion world? What is your creative process in buying for retail? What’s been your favorite piece of clothing over the years?

HA:  I’m not sure it qualifies as an “aha” moment, but there is a family story that should have given everyone a clue. My birthday is in early Spring, and I was given a new dress that year. I was probably about 7 or 8, and my celebration was on a Sunday. So I was all excited to wear my new (Spring) dress to school on Monday.  I woke up on Monday morning with my dress all ready to go, only to look out the window and see a foot of snow. School was cancelled and I was inconsolable, crying for the better part of the morning as my dress obviously had to wait!

As a buyer, and especially a buyer of Scottish cashmere where every sample you look at is available in at least 80 colors, it is tempting to get TOO creative. I certainly have been guilty of that, as well as being “early” on certain color directions. However, the most important thing I asked myself, especially as it related to a complicated/funky/oversized/multicolored item, is “Who are you going to sell it to, Holly?” I would run through my brain-stored rolodex of customers, and if I couldn’t come up with a few names, I would pass. Some of my personal favorites ended up in my closet from the markdown rack. But I tried very hard to keep at least 90% of my purchases purely customer dictated. The other 10%? You have to have SOME fun, we used to call those “Holly’s Follies.”

I could never pick a favorite thing, but there are things that mean a lot to me. A sweater that my mother knit for my father (it’s scratchy as all get out but it sits on the back of a chair for when I need to feel their arms around me). A pair of Levi’s that are all ripped up but still fit some 25 years later (they must have been big when I bought them). The “good” watch I bought myself the day I resigned from my job to open CashmereinC. The shoes I bought myself on the one day I allowed myself a “divorce” shopping spree……and no, they are not stilettos in red patent, but the most beautifully made pair of loafers I have ever owned (and likely ever will). Silly jewelry purchases from Island vacations. A dress I bought in Florence about 18 years ago that I wear to this day. So like scent is a trigger for some people, I can look at a piece of clothing in my closet and remember who I was with, where I wore it last, was it a good time or a bad one?

FW: Who is your muse? Why and how do they inspire you?

HA: I don’t really have a singular muse, excepting my mood. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my chameleon nature as it relates to personal style. I’m just as likely to be wearing camouflage boys cargo shorts and a cashmere sweater as I am a white t-shirt, black lace beaded skirt paired with cowboy boots. Or maybe an Audrey sheath dress, albeit mixed up with some “statement” necklace or an armful of mis-matched, mixed metal and material bangles.  Funny colored shoes. A featherweight printed stole. Obviously, occasion dictates some of it. Suffice it to say that you will never find me in a proscribed, head-to-toe designer look. Men’s silk dressing gowns have acted as blazers, athletic side-striped leggings have acted as Tuxedo pants, and cashmere blankets have become outerwear pieces. I have a very active imagination!
I was about to wear something for the first time that I had had re-imagined and presented to a tailor. They did not do it the way I had explained, but I did not have time to have it “fixed”. So I soldiered on, took it to the occasion, and shared with a friend that it wasn’t right. His response was, “If you are wearing it that way, then everyone will assume it is right.” That truly was a compliment.
FW:  If you could have any notable individual — dead or alive — walk into one of your stores, past or present, who would that be and why?

HA: I would have loved to sell Katharine Hepburn the perfect black turtleneck. Ditto, Diana Vreeland. Audrey Hepburn the perfect black cashmere sheath (it’s in my closet). Joan Didion would have bought a multitude of colors in what became my “famous” cashmere cable-knit crew neck sweater. Jackie O. would have purchased a a poorboy rib crewneck. Gerald Murphy, some version of a Breton-knit, and his wife Sara would have bought the beautiful  black pashmina piano stole covered in ivory hand embroidery. Michelle Obama, a cobalt blue ¾ sleeve cropped cardigan with teeny buttons. That being said, I have waited on the likes of Nicole Kidman, Dorothy Hamill, Glenn Close, Mark Messier (on Christmas eve – he was FUN!), Martha Stewart, Kathie Lee Gifford, many Kennedys, Mats Wilander. You never knew who would walk in the door.

FW:  What words of wisdom or inspiration, or daily affirmation do you live by, or at least strive to live by? And what legacy, fashion or otherwise, do you hope to leave to the future and why?

HA: I try to live with style, whether it’s the red wall in my dining room surrounded by my grandfather’s black and white etchings of birds or in my daily (and highly changeable) choice of clothing. It all seems to be a mad mix that somehow works, at least for me. I don’t dress, decorate, cook, or behave for anyone besides myself – even if a certain situation has boundaries. I was extremely well parented, and educated, so I believe manners and respect go a long way. Generosity of spirit and time, listening well and hard, living with a wide-open heart (even when it hurts). I’m not sure I will leave a fashion legacy, besides my collection of books on style, my family treasures, and a couple of beautifully made, timeless things that I own. If pressed, I’d say to take a risk once in a while. Trust your mood and let it dictate your “armor.”  After all, clothes are only body-coverings. Let them be fun when you feel fun, functional when that’s what you need, fabulous when fabulous is called for, and serious with a touch of “you” when that’s what the day asks of you.

5 thoughts on “A Fashionable Mind: Holly Adam on FashionWhirled’s Friday:5ive

  1. Thank you for sharing this interview. I have known Holly since she was the menswear fashion director @ Bloomingdales, as I was at Esquire. It was a treat to reconnect with her as a neighbor when she was running her exquisite shop CashmereC. She is forever chic, warm and fun to gab with. I am thrilled to learn about her new adventures and the great job she is doing in bringing us fashion folk together.

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