One on One with John Varvatos

Calvin Klein’s iconic nineties sportswear, Polo Ralph Lauren, and the leather jacket/boots and black jeans combo are just three of the defining American aesthetics but were all established by John Varvatos. The iconic menswear designer was the head of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren’s Menswear divisions in the nineties before starting his own label in 2000. Between balancing his own two lines (John Varvatos & John Varvatos USA) and burgeoning record label, he is one of the most influential and in demand designers on the planet. I got a chance to chat with him about everything from his inception of the boxer brief to what the must-have piece is for men this season.

You’ve had a huge role in shaping the American aesthetic; whether it’s Sportswear, Preppy & your own downtown rock n roll look. How would you define men’s style in 2015?

John Varvatos
It’s evolved in something really interesting today in that it’s all about individuality. I’ve never been one to create a uniform for people, so it’s defiantly more eclectic and men’s style has become important. Even when I started the company fifteen years ago, guys owned a pair of black shoes and a trainer, now they have closets full of shoes. Guys are worse then women now. (Laughs)

DXY: What did you learn at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren that helped shape your own brand?

JV: Going through the process of executing things and growing from a designer standpoint and gaining an understanding of everything from branding to marketing. When I think of Calvin (Klein), the first thing I think of is what a great marketer he was. At Ralph, I called it Polo University because I learned everything from creating an image, making your brand aspiration, always raising the bar while always stay true to who you are.

DXY: You’re crediting with creating the boxer brief at Calvin Klein? What do you think is next in terms of innovation in menswear?

JV: I think we’re in a mode that’s very athletic driven (sweatpants, knit pieces and sneakers). I think like fashion it will always be important but I don’t think in two years it will be what it is today. What that say’s to me though is that guys are really into comfort. So I think comfort in fabrics for tailoring and durability. I think the millennial wants those things in their life. At the designer level people always looked down at easy care items but I think people do care that they don’t have to iron everything. So I think the next evolution in menswear is that the fabrics will become much more functional, I don’t think they will be high tech. I think people will want a beautiful flannel suit but they’ll want it with stretch. It’s not a new concept in general but I think it’s never been as important as is today.

DXY: You’ve spent a lot of time vacationing here back when you were a kid, what made you decide to invest in retail here (in terms of your own store and working with Harry Rosen) when some people would say that the market isn’t as advanced as other major cities that you didn’t expand into first?

JV: I don’t know about the market not being as advanced. Toronto to me is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America. There is a stylish consumer here as well. In years past that consumer used to shop in other cities but they don’t really need to today. I always loved Toronto, I almost moved here back in the late seventies. Fifteen years ago this week, we launched our brand and I did my first Trunk Show here at Harry Rosen. At that time I dreamed about having a store in Toronto so opening up my flagship a few years ago was a really exciting moment for me.

DXY: Fashion brands have recently begun to dive deeper into the music industry (Ex. Burberry working with Apple and Maison Kitsune launching their own record label) do you see this as a trend or something more permanent?

JV: I think fashion and music are intertwined and have always been interconnected. I think that pop culture has always been connected with music and fashion and most musicians want to be designers and most designers want to be musicians.

DXY: Can you talk about your favorite pieces from the fall collection?

JV: They’re all kind of my babies but Shearlings coats; I think it’s the season of the coat. The thigh length coat is just great style right now. You can wear it with jeans, you can wear it with tailoring and it layers up nicely with everything you have. I could name fifty items but I’m calling it the season of the coat.

DXY: Can you talk a bit about your inspiration behind the collection?

JV: For the fall line, a picture of Bob Dylan inspired me. Richard Avedon shot the picture in Central Park in 1964. The park was amazing, and Bob looks like any cool young musician in 2015 (skinny pants, black boots). Everything about him including his hair looks like he’s right here. Most pictures from 1964 look dated but I saw that picture and there was something about it. That picture inspired the opening look for our F/W15 runway show as well.

Anthony O’Dell is a freelance writer that’s focused on all things style related. When he isn’t articulating the news and development that impact the industry today you can find him on the basketball court or shopping on Queen Street West.

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