John Varvatos is arguably today’s most popular menswear designer. Whether it’s footwear, knitwear or tailored clothing – from his signature collection or John Varvatos USA – his designs project an alluring, modern rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
The designer’s distinctive style and vision are no accident. Varvatos credits his early obsession with rock music as sparking his interest in fashion. He carried this spark with him when he began his career in the corporate ranks of Ralph Lauren. He moved to Calvin Klein during the brand’s peak in the 1990s. At Calvin Klein, Varvatos is credited with pioneering men’s boxer briefs, a hybrid of boxer shorts and briefs.
When he rented a design studio to launch his own line in late 1999, the first thing he did was install a high-end audio system. His rock-inspired debut collection earned him the Perry Ellis Award for New Menswear Designer from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
In 2001, Varvatos launched a collaboration with Converse. In addition to reinterpreting American classics like the Chuck Taylor All Star and the Jack Purcell, he also created the now infamous John Varvatos Laceless Chuck Taylor. The collaboration proved wildly successful and received praise from the fashion elite.
Speaking of the laceless Chuck Taylor in an article for GQ, Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador for Barney’s New York, said, “John has an in-depth understanding of the American-male psyche. He knows that above all else, guys are fundamentally lazy, especially when it comes to matters of style and dress…So John does something so simple it’s almost criminal: He takes the favorite shoe of the American male—the Converse sneaker—and makes it a slip-on. It’s the most life-changing style invention since the dickey.”
In 2008, Varvatos bought the Bowery venue that formerly housed famed music club, CBGB’s. He wanted to keep as much of the history as possible, so his new store featured CBGB’s preserved walls covered with graffiti, concert posters, stickers and band fliers, as well as its original black ceiling and theatrical lighting. Varvatos further paid homage to the venue by starting a concert series there, called Bowery Live, which showcased both up-and-coming artists and more established bands.
Music and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle continue to heavily influence his design process. His ad campaigns have featured music idols like Iggy Pop, Robert Plant and the New York Dolls. And his collections continue to garner praise with additional awards from the CFDA, as well as being named GQ’s Designer of the Year.