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Factory Girl: Dani Stahl Gets Her DIY on with Jonathan Adler

Radar
Photographed by Eric Helgas.

home improvement

A giant brass banana statue greets me as I enter the downtown NYC headquarters unofficially dubbed the “Fantasy Factory” à la Andy Warhol—a place where, at any time, a plethora of adorable dogs can be found running around at your feet. This lively space on Hudson Street is home to none other than the Jonathan Adler offices, and, fittingly, it’s where I’m undertaking my first-ever home-inspired Factory Girl experience.

Of course, fashion is my usual beat. But, as you loyal readers know, I recently got married; when it came time for my husband and me to create our wedding gift registry, I found myself browsing kitchenware and apartment decor just as much as clothing, and even (gasp) shoes. And now, as I continue to decorate my new home, my obsession with interior design has only grown. (I get way more excited about a Bloomingdale’s home goods flash sale than I’d like to admit.) The way I’ve come to see it, I change my outfit two or three times a day—and if it’s fashion week, who knows how many times? I switch up my hair and my makeup as I so please. And I’m forever on the hunt for fun, new go-to meals. We modify stuff in our daily lives all the time. But for some reason the spaces we live in often remain static—and they don’t have to. Our homes should be something we play with, something that we have fun with.

So, my status as a newly minted interior design enthusiast explains how I came to find myself here—in the presence of the aforementioned epic fruit statue—to get an inside view of how Adler’s wonderfully eccentric, bohemian, mod creations come to life.

Upon my arrival at the offices, I’m shown the lay of the land by the man behind the brand, Adler himself, whose personality is a perfect reflection of his clever aesthetic. A potter by trade, Adler’s passion for clay started at the age of 12 at summer camp. As a young man trying to make it in NYC, he got his start teaching nighttime pottery classes at Mud, Sweat & Tears in Hell’s Kitchen (back during a time when the name better described the neighborhood) in exchange for free studio space. In 1994, Barneys placed its first order for his work. By 1998 the first Jonathan Adler store had opened in SoHo, and since then the concept has grown to include everything from furniture to light fixtures, but pottery still sits at the soul of the company.

Photographed by Eric Helgas.

Adler’s office is situated between a kiln and a pottery studio, where I will be working the wheel myself. In college my concentration was in the visual arts as a graphic design and photography major, so I’ve taken a pottery class or two. But a handful of ashtrays and a cookie jar (which still, I might add, sits on my nightstand) are the extent of my expertise. So Adler will help me out in what we jokingly call a “Ghost moment.”

Inspired by the fact that I will soon be having a baby girl, Adler wants us to make pregnancy pots that celebrate an expectant mother’s shape. The first step in this process is wedging, in which I knead the clay to remove any air bubbles. This is followed by centering (situating the clay perfectly on the wheel so that it doesn’t wobble), lubricating (adding plenty of water), and leveraging (working with my arms anchored at my hips to optimize my strength). I’m taught a few useful mantras, including “force order from chaos” and “be in control of the clay, not the other way around.” Molding the clay is just as cool of an experience as I remember.

Photographed by Eric Helgas.

While I work on my little pregnancy pot, Adler creates his own version. You know how someone who’s good at something difficult makes it look ridiculously easy? Well, let’s just say Adler throws 25 pounds of clay onto the wheel like it’s nothing and manages to do so flawlessly in white jeans without so much as a stain (simply by standing next to him I’ve somehow managed to cover my jeans in clay).

When we’re done crafting our pots, we toss our womanly creations into the kiln to be fired. Later they’ll be painted. I leave the Jonathan Adler offices so excited to incorporate the special piece into my home. It’s something I know I’ll pass on to my own daughter to keep in the family for generations to come. And when I do, I’ll be sure to tell her the story of how I made it—curves and all—with my own two hands.

Photographed by Eric Helgas.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.