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ROCK STEADY: An Interview with Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Resident Menswear Designer John Varvatos

by Renata Certo-Ware

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Image Credit: Kareem Worrell

At a party celebrating his store opening in Boston, menswear designer John Varvatos greets guests out front as he nurses a Starbucks cup. Inside, the new boutique is packed full of men with perfectly tailored jackets and perfectly rumpled hair, and their equally well-heeled arm candy. It’s no surprise, though: his clothing has become something of a uniform for Hall-of-Famers, up-and-comers, and urban dandies alike.

A real industry veteran, Varvatos has been in fashion for 30 years and has accumulated more rock star devotees than any other menswear designer. Now, with a handful of new stores in Asia slated to open in 2014 – his first outside of the USA – We caught up with the perpetually leather-clad designer to talk about his roots, and where menswear is headed.

What fashion risks are men afraid to try, and what have they embraced that has surprised you?

In general, men have always been more cautious than women. Proportions in womenswear change all the time, and they go with it, they love everything new. But, most guys are more about an evolutionthan a revolution. It’s changing though, and guys are much more willing to try things today, especially in shoes. Guys used to have a black pair of shoes, a brown pair, and sneakers. Now they have shoe closets – they’re like girls now! Now guys want boots, wingtips – they love shoes! I love shoes …

What will we never see on your runway? Is there anything that you know just doesn’t work for you or your line?

I’ll never put fur on the runway. And, I’ll never have square-toed shoes.

Not even after Marc Jacobs’ square-toed shoe revival?

Especially not after that. Those were pilgrim shoes.

You’ve featured musicians like Dave Matthews and Willy Nelson in your ad campaigns. Would you ever consider casting a female rocker?

I’ve thought about it many times, and it may happen at some point.

How do you feel about women wearing menswear? Love it or hate it?

I love Patti Smith’s style. I even love when Madonna wears menswear-inspired clothing, and I just saw Rihanna wearing what looked like a men’s suit and she looked amazing! She can look good in everything.

Do you ever find that your Greek roots come through in any of your collections, or the way you do business?

They definitely come through in my passion for what I do and my humility for what I do. I grew up in a 100 per cent Greek family that was very humble – seven people in an 800-square-foot house with one bathroom – and family was very important, relatives were important, the heritage was important. Now, I am very true to the heritage of my brand and have a respect for the heritage of menswear.

How did your traditional Greek family react when you told them you were going to be in fashion?

Well, it’s funny because I have a degree in education, so I didn’t go back to school to be in fashion until I was 29, but I worked in fashion – I paid my way through school by working in retail, so my parents already knew I was very into it. My mother was unbelievably proud when I was head of design at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

Was there one moment where the stars aligned that really opened up doors and set your career in motion?

I think it was working for Ralph Lauren. I wasn’t in design, I was in sales. I was so intrigued by the whole design process that I actually started going back to school at night, at 29 years old, and Ralph gave me a chance because he loved my sense of style and it was a huge opportunity to be in design with a limited resume but lots of passion, a good artistic hand and a good eye.

 

John Varvatos Poses at his Boston Store 2 photo by Kareem Worrell sm

Go Glam or Go Home!

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image credit: Danny Kim/Renata Certo-Ware

Saks Fifth Avenue’s unique Beauty Symposium was formatted as a question and answer session that gave a handful of Beantown’s most dedicated beauty enthusiasts a chance to get a serious peek into the panelists’ minds, beauty cabinets, and even their social lives, as questions like “What do people always ask you at cocktail parties?” were posed by the moderator and answered by the experts. (“What celebrity are you working with?” is a cocktail party question that haunts Quinn -which he hates to answer – and “How old do you think I am?” is a question that Dr. Brown finds himself dodging frequently!)
 
Here are some tips and tricks, direct from the experts. The takeaway lesson: There’s no excuse not to look – and feel! – beautiful every second of the day. Arm yourself with a copy of Allure and your credit card (the other indispensable CC) and run, don’t walk, to Saks to stock up!
 
Shawn Rowan of Jo Malone:
 
Everyone can have a custom, signature scent! Don’t be afraid to experiment with blending and layering scents, starting with the strongest scent first, followed by the more subtle ones on top.
 
A lot of Jo Malone’s new fragrances are inspired by scents not necessarily typical of perfume, like nectarines, farmer’s market herb offerings, and four types of London rain. With Jo Malone’s touch, these everyday comfort-scents become beautiful and elegant fragrances!
 
Match your Jo Malone home candles to the smaller version – the travel candle – as a way to feel connected to home in hotels. (Wish I had thought of this back in Middle School – I could have braved summer camp a lot better!)
 
Tim Quinn of Giorgio Armani
 
Cheek contouring and highlighting can take years off! With age – and gravity – skin begins to sag, but a bit of well-placed highlighter can instantly lift cheeks, cheekbones, and eyes. The Designer Lift Smoothing and Firming Foundation is an ultimate in-house go-to for achieving this effect.
 
My Top Must-Try Products:
 
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image credit: Michael Blanford for Saks Fifth Avenue Boston
 
Jo Malone’s Lime Basil and Mandarin Cologne is a completely addictive scent that is actually quite masculine. The fearless, powerful, and sweet-smelling fragrance will immediately bring to mind cool evenings and throwing your date’s blazer over your cocktail dress. Instant tousled hair and LBD not included, but they may as well be.
 
I loved Armani’s Fluid Sheer liquid blush and I also took Armani’s Luminessence CC Cream for a test-drive. Spoiler alert: was instantly converted. I truly avoid wearing any product on my face (which elicited a gasp of shock from the woman at the Armani counter!) and was skeptical about trying this. Armed with my “Ok, I’ll give it a try but I won’t like it” attitude, I was pleasantly proven wrong – this has built in subtle shimmer and looked and felt was as light as a lotion. There was no sudden tinted- makeup alter ego, where I go from looking like a 20-something to a Miami housewife (or worse, a corpse!), and I used my free sample all through the weekend. Will definitely be stocking up!
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