|John Varvatos at the 92nd St Y. Photograph by Joyce Culver.|
Last night, John Varvatos sat down with Fern Mallis on the main stage of Manhattan's Kaufman Concert Hall (at the 92nd St Y), to participate in Mallis's on-going series of friendly-and-informative interviews known as Fashion Icons. On the table was an in-depth conversation about his "crowded" childhood in Detroit (his Greek-American family of seven lived in a tiny house), his early interest in rock & roll (from Iggy Pop and MC5 to Peter Frampton and Kiss), and, perhaps most important, his extensive training inside the corporate structure of two powerhouse brands: Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
We've known Varvatos for many years, but some of his revelations were entirely new, including his story about working on the sales floor at Fitzgerald's, a men's clothier in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We knew the store well –– and we're pretty sure we bought a Polo Ralph Lauren linen sport coat there, which we subsequently wore to a (successful) job interview at VOGUE. In other words, our paths crossed with Varvatos much earlier than 2000, which is when we formally met him, previewed his eponymous collection, and photographed a handsome sheepskin coat for a "10 Best" story in ForbesLife magazine.
Varvatos is a quintessential American designer –– his menswear hits all the right spots for average guys who want to look cool, but not too close to fashion's outer edge. As he's matured, he's turned more and more to his early loves, to the point where he now operates a store-cum-shrine on the premises of the former CBGB, and rubs shoulders with the same rock & roll icons who show up in his advertising campaigns. He's even launched John Varvatos Records, in conjunction with Republic Records. He plans to use the label for re-issues, compilations, and presenting new talent. And to think, it all began in Detroit, with a Buco leather jacket, "Sam's Jams" record store, and a dream.