Q&A with R. Adam Smith, CEO and Chairman of V&M (Vintage and Modern)
With his 20 years of experience in investment banking and private investing—he had tenures at Lehman Brothers, Caxton-Iseman Capital and Castle Harlan before founding Circle Peak Capital in 2002—you can be sure that R. Adam Smith knows about business travel. Yet that’s not reason why the XOJET Blog wanted to speak with him. Smith is the CEO of V&M (Vintage and Modern), a company that has not only found its niche in the highly competitive field of rare collectibles and art, but has also quickly become the favorite online retail site of Departures, Nate Berkus, Elle Décor and Vogue. Unlike many of its competitors, V&M doesn’t do flash sales or coupons, so there’s none of that virtual running of the bulls that often accompanies such gimmicks. The company is far more interested in facilitating an open exchange of ideas with a clientele passionate about design. The site was one of the first to offer individual style profiles and personal inspiration boards allowing customers to express themselves, as well as providing extensive original editorial content. We finally caught up with Adam, on his way to another meeting furthering the breakneck expansion of the V&M brand, to discuss the future of vintage in the digital age.
XOJET: What prompted you to leave a successful career in finance for the high risk of online retail?
RAS: I decided to pursue my long-held passion of working as an entrepreneur and dealing with unique merchandise that’s of a design and creative nature, rather than financing companies as a third party, which had rather impersonal outcomes. I started private investing in 1998, and years later, involved in over 20 transactions, I wanted to move into my own position on the front line, working directly with the executives and dreams of these smaller companies. As a collector of many years and a V&M client, I knew there was something empowering about being able to access merchandise and design and collectibles online, connecting the visual experience of one’s interests with merchandise that’s immediately accessible.
XOJET: Given the incredible competition between retail sites dedicated to rare art, design and interiors, what distinguishes V&M from its competitors?
RAS: The world of art, design and collecting online is in its infancy. Only a handful of leaders of online sites have built any meaningful scale in recent years—including 1stdibs, ARTINFO, artnet, Artfact, Etsy, Exhibition A. Having more than five years under its belt, V&M is not only one of the larger and more established players in the online design genre, but it has developed a passionate following of clients from over 35 countries, with millions of unique visits. Our clients’ interests have transcended our core product, antiques and vintage, and have moved into the world of fine art and jewelry, creating a rich palette of content, community and ecommerce that’s unrivalled on the web today. We strive to be inspirational, accessible and affordable, while being chic, beautiful and unique.
XOJET: What are the trends worth mentioning in your market right now?
RAS: We’ve seen a dramatic interest in unique photographic prints, and in the last year, we’ve featured highly successful features from Leo Fuchs, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Haskins. We’ve also had tremendous demand for our vintage estate jewelry collections, art deco and smaller objet collectibles. Our clients are also interested in the meaning of true vintage, which we’ve illustrated through our new relationship with the experts at Byronesque.
XOJET: You’ve gathered a broad team of professionals, authorities, connoisseurs—Andy Hilfiger, Selima Salaun and Hannah Bronfman, to name only a few. Would you talk about your talent and the role they play?
RAS: Thank you for saying so. In the last year, V&M has opened its doors to not only a broader client base and vendor base, but also talented professionals from a broad range of practice areas including antiques, fine art advisory, auction houses, interior design schools, fashion houses, luxury brands, magazines, social media, ecommerce and digital media. It’s a pleasure to assemble and work with such talent, and it bodes well for our future. We do take particular pride in the involvement of a few individuals who are making a genuine difference in our future, particularly our board members Richard Cooperstein and Louis Santor. Their involvement has dramatically expanded our knowledge of the opportunities in digital media content, social media and strategic acquisitions. Other advisors of note: fashion icon Bonnie Young, talent manager Jan Planit, and financier/producer Andrew T. Malloy.
XOJET: Coincidentally, speaking of Andrew Malloy, the XOJET Blog will soon post our conversation with Todd Okerstrom, Director of Personal Shopping at Bergdorf Goodman. As a supporter of the upcoming documentary Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s, could you tell us more about the film?
RAS: Bergdorf is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most amazing brands, and this is reflected in a remarkable documentary directed by Matthew Miele. The film has already been met with critical acclaim and support from the documentary, luxury, retail and film communities. It’s beautiful to see the celebration of heritage in today’s world of rushed and excessive consumerism. Luxury houses today must redefine their brand of luxury to their consumers in order to distinguish themselves.
XOJET: Your site embraces a new approach for luxury retailers, one in which they develop, produce, exhibit and distribute their own original content. Which begs the question, how is V&M redefining luxury?
RAS: We believe that, in a world of excessive content and mass consumerism offerings, notably blogs and manufactured goods, V&M—with its luxurious, one-of-a-kind merchandise—offers refreshing originality, beautiful goods and great value. In the design industry, V&M has become a very special and trusted place to visit, where you can shop and have a distinctive experience—which is, after all, a form of luxury.