MR Q: John Varvatos

by Harry Sheff

Fashion star: John Varvatos moves to his own beat.

John VarvatosAfter working for two menswear greats (Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein), John Varvatos launched his own brand in 2000 with tailored clothing and sportswear, and quickly developed a following among rock stars. The company has grown to multiple sub-brands, including the John Varvatos Collection, John Varvatos Star U.S.A. and Converse by John Varvatos footwear. The Varvatos brands became a part of VF Corp in 2003 and then sold in April 2012 to Lion Capital LLP. Varvatos kept a stake in his namesake brand and stayed on as chairman and chief creative officer. We interviewed him while he was in Milan gearing up for his fall 2013 runway show.

Tell us about your fall 2013 collection.
Fall ’13 was inspired by New York and London: it’s got a bit of the British dandy and a bit of New York edge. Our collection is always very textural but this is the most we’ve ever done: lots of three-dimensional fabrics and mixed fabrications (i.e. leather and wools, suede and leather). Colors are deep and rich: Bordeaux, midnight blue, olives and grays. There’s also a de-emphasis on black this season, not that we don’t think it’s important, it’s just less black than usual. Fabrications include mohair, wool, cashmere, tweed and velvet. But it’s not your classic velvets; they’re done with cotton, silk and viscose which gives this special antique feeling.

How’s business? What’s your take on the current state of menswear?
The economy is still a question mark for a lot of people. While we’re coming off of a fantastic fall season, the general word that we got was that [business for a lot of people] is just OK. There were still a lot of markdowns this season. However, there’s a lot of interesting things happening in American menswear. We’ve really spiced up the creativity and are finding that guys are open to change and pushing the envelope.

What are your plans for 2013?
We’re opening new stores in Miami, Boston and Toronto. For 2014 we’re looking to open in London, Southeast Asia, and we’re still looking for another store in New York.

I’m most excited about the re-launch of our website this month. Our e-commerce business increased 50 percent last year, so we started from scratch and built a completely interactive site. One of its features is this personal shopper/ concierge service where customers can work with actual sales people via Skype.

How did music become such an influential part of the brand?
It wasn’t our intention, but music has been the heart and soul of the brand since we started. Growing up, music and fashion always inspired me, but the real connection to the brand happened when musicians became attracted to it. So the music connection wasn’t premeditated; it was something that just happened organically and through the passion that I have for music and that artists had for the brand. I want to pinch myself all the time because (outside of my family) those are my two biggest passions in life.

What was your favorite record from 2012?
Gary Clark Jr. is one of the most exciting musical artists on the planet right now. His first album was a blues album, with no singles, and it debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard charts. There hasn’t been an artist who’s done that kind of thing in years. And that’s why I’m so excited about our new spring ad campaign. It features Gary Clark Jr. and Jimmy Page. So it’s almost like the old master and the young gun; a fashion and music icon mixed with the next generation.

What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned over the years?
When I worked for Ralph Lauren I learned to be true to myself. Ralph has always stayed to true to himself and the brand. You should never chase what’s happening, but rather build on your own handwriting. It’s also important to be a sponge and soak in as much knowledge and information as possible. You should never stop learning—and that’s one thing that’s helped me over the years—I always wanted to know everything about everything: tailored, furnishings, shoes, accessories, sportswear, production, sales, etc. The more you have under your belt the more successful you will be. You’ve got to have passion, but if you can mix that with knowledge, you’ll be unstoppable.