For many women, a trip to the mall calls for yoga pants and trainers. Not so for the group of 10 who recently assembled at the Neiman Marcus in Paramus, New Jersey.
This activity—an intimate lunch and private shopping with the designer Adam Lippes and Neiman Marcus stylist Sonia Minetti-Sengos—called for getting dressed. Stylish skirts, sweaters, and pantsuits, many designed by Lippes, were accessorized with heels and handbags of recognizable provenance.
By the event’s end, many of the women had put in substantial orders for Lippes’s collection. “You decide for me,” Kristen Walsh, a glamorous, feisty mother of five, said to the designer. She ultimately bought more than 10 looks. Such quantifiable enthusiasm is not unusual among the Neiman’s faithful, which makes Lippes a favorite choice for headlining special events. (On September 8th, he will be the featured designer at the Crystal Charity Ball Lunch and Fashion Show, at Neiman’s Downtown Dallas flagship.)
But Lippes’s interests are not exclusively oriented toward well-heeled, fashion-loving suburbanites. He is also in the marijuana business, with Farnsworth Fine Cannabis, a high-end dispensary in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which he owns with his partner, Alexander Farnsworth. Just one week before the Neiman Marcus event, Lippes was on hand as a steady stream of customers walked the perimeter inside the polished, oak-walled interior of the Farnsworth shop, designed by British architect Simon Aldridge.
Unlike fashion retail, where alluring storefront windows are considered nearly essential, here, no products are permitted to be visible from the street.
The rag and weed trades are very different, but Lippes maintains that lessons learned from his life in fashion inform practices at the newer enterprise. He apprenticed as a designer in the old-school ways of his longtime boss and dear friend, the late Oscar de la Renta, for whom customer service was as important as craft.
Lippes’s business interests are not exclusively oriented toward well-heeled, fashion-loving suburbanites.
“The approach is to make both the most appealing and elegant experience they can be,” he says. “A lot of cannabis shops can be really lowbrow, and we wanted to change that.”
That founding premise impacts everything about the business, starting with the dispensary’s design-led branding and packaging. The store carries goods across the cannabis range—flower, edibles, topicals—from dozens of brands, including its own. Farnsworth is especially proud of the company’s filtered, hemp-paper-wrapped cannabis cigarettes that come in three strengths; he says they provide a more refined look and experience than the typical joint.
The shop also carries apparel done in collaboration with the Webster, a micro-chain of boutiques, as well as tony extras, including vintage smoking accoutrements from Cartier and Asprey. Currently available: a lighter once owned by Jack Kerouac.
That upscale atmosphere attracts mature clients who may feel less comfortable shopping for controlled substances elsewhere, according to its owners. (During our recent visit, a man who appeared to be 70-plus was on his second visit of the day.)
Farnsworth Fine Cannabis incorporated in 2018, and the dispensary opened in 2021. The company’s name was chosen in part for its elegant resonance, and in part to honor Farnsworth’s great-great-uncle, radio and television pioneer Philo Farnsworth, who invented the first electronic-television system.
“A lot of cannabis shops can be really lowbrow, and we wanted to change that.”
With its crossover of blue-collar and artsy populations, Great Barrington felt like the perfect place to set up shop. The couple already had a home nearby, in the town of Monterey, a wonderfully eccentric Tudor that Lippes had bought years earlier. He and Farnsworth moved there permanently during the pandemic, giving up the grand Brooklyn rental they’d lived in after Lippes sold his previous residence, a town house on Washington Square Park. He now commutes into New York for his fashion life, spending three nights a week at a hotel within walking distance from his lower-Broadway office.
Farnsworth and Lippes view the Great Barrington dispensary as just the beginning of a business brimming with potential, but expansion presents challenges specific to the sphere. Though legal in 23 states, the production and sale of recreational cannabis products are still federal felonies. That means all business activity must be confined within each individual state—everything grown, produced, and sold without crossing state lines. As for e-commerce, while the accessories can be sold online, THC products can be pre-ordered but must be picked up in-store.
That’s just for starters. Because few banks and credit-card companies operate within one state only, retail sales are typically all cash. And try borrowing money. On one hand, you can’t fall into debt. On the other, “a line of credit would be helpful,” Farnsworth muses. Yet another hurdle: I.R.S. Code Section 280E, which Farnsworth calls “the drug dealers’ tax code.” It prohibits certain deductions standard in other businesses.
Still, Farnsworth and Lippes possess entrepreneurial zeal, and relish the possibilities inherent in this culture-changing industry they entered in its infancy. They plan to expand their wholesale operation (the cigarettes are currently available at 15 stores across Massachusetts). A Farnsworth edible is in development, and the company is wholesaling its cannabis cigarettes.
They’re also mulling a second retail location, in upstate New York, even though the federal restrictions would mean starting anew, to keep all activity within the state. (New York passed a cannabis-business exemption to 280E.)
Such are the opportunities and challenges of this burgeoning commercial arena and its workaday grind. Especially for Lippes, who has committed to his two worlds for the long haul. “It’s a lot,” he says. “But it’s fun.” And a pretty good buzz.
Bridget Foley is a longtime fashion journalist who spent more than 20 years as a critic and editor at Women’s Wear Daily