one thing you can say about New York-based menswear
designer John Varvatos is that he’s as serious about
music and people using their voices in this heated
political climate as he is about making men’s clothes.
first met Varvatos over a fall 2009 breakfast on the
patio of the Four Seasons hotel in Austin, Texas, where
I was a fashion columnist/stylist. Varvatos was visiting
the Texas capital city to attend his first Austin City
Limits Music Festival. He talked about being a new dad
— and he thanked me for wearing my black Varvatos
brand has always included rock ‘n’ roll-spirited
leather jackets, strong suiting and bold and slightly
rebellious-looking footwear that could get a guy head
turns, but not in an obnoxious look-at-me sort of way.
recently caught up with Varvatos again, this time in
Orange County. The reshowing of his fall/winter 2017
presentation; a high-energy performance by Vintage
Trouble, the band appearing in the spring/summer 2018
Varvatos campaign; and an after-party were part of South
Coast Plaza’s 50th-anniversary celebrations.
sat down backstage before the show, as dressers and hair
and makeup teams were getting models ready for showtime.
he’s a New Yorker at heart, the 63-year-old designer
has strong Southern California ties. A new Westfield
Century City store in Los Angeles will soon open,
joining his existing stand-alone stores in West
Hollywood, Malibu, Costa Mesa and San Diego.
designer also raises money for Stuart House, a program
of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA
Medical Center. ("I have more friends in L.A. than
New York," says Varvatos, a fan of Amoeba Music in
Hollywood. "My daughter likes it out here.")
I last saw him, Varvatos has taken a deeper dive into
the music scene. He announced earlier this fall that he
had teamed up with Scott Borchetta, founder and chief
executive of Nashville-based Big Machine Records (Taylor
Swift’s record label), on his existing John Varvatos
don’t want it to be anything about my ego,"
Varvatos said, adding that he wants his label’s focus
to be launching new artists and talent. (His label
recently signed L.A. rock band Badflower.) "I
really want it to be about the music."
exactly whom was he listening to? "Tom Petty —
No. 1. No. 2 is Tom Petty and No. 3 is Tom Petty at the
moment. …" he says, scrolling through his
was also Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real —
Willie Nelson’s son’s band ("He has a new album
out that is so good, and it crosses so many
genres") — as well as music by jazz trio Saft,
Swallow and Previte featuring Iggy Pop and the latest
release from rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who’s in the
fall 2017 Varvatos campaign.
was around 2005 that he started using artists in his
campaigns, including the Roots, Alice Cooper and Dave
Matthews have starred in.
saw early on music artists were shopping with us and
contacting us about clothes and photo shoots and
tours," Varvatos says. "And I thought, ‘That’s
pretty amazing.’ Then you get people who were icons
when you were growing up who want to wear your clothes
or are already buying your clothes someplace. And you’re
like, ‘Oh my god, Jimmy Page is buying my clothes.’
Or Alice Cooper or Iggy Pop or whoever it was at the
case you weren’t at New York Fashion Week or South
Coast Plaza, Varvatos’ fall/winter 2017 "Wild at
Heart" collection, according to show notes, was
designed to give "the idea of nonchalant cool with
an uncompromising devotion to elegance and
expected, what came along the U-shaped runway in Costa
Mesa was signature Varvatos (tailored suits, leather and
stripped outerwear, animal prints and plenty of dandy
flare), and is available online and in stores.
after its debut, Varvatos says the collection was put
together during the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential
this time in the world, we need people who have
voices," he says. "We need people that aren’t
meek and sit back, but they want to create change out
there. They don’t want to put up with the … that’s
going on. … Even in the music industry, I believe it’s
time for those rebels again — the ones that have a
voice that isn’t just a fun pop song."