JOHN VARVATOS

The open­ing of re­gion’s first JOHN VARVATOS store is about to make a lot of noise

Esquire Middle East - - IN THIS ISSUE - BY MATTHEW BAX­TER-PRIEST

The man bring­ing lux­ury Rock ’n’ Roll style to menswear in the Gulf

RENOWNED FOR ITS LUX­URY ROCK ’N’ ROLL sen­si­bil­i­ties, the John Varvatos brand’s de­but in the Gulf has been one of the most hotly an­tic­i­pated store open­ings in the past year. Specif­i­cally fo­cused on men with a re­bel­lious side, the New York brand has brought its full range of menswear, ac­ces­sories and fra­grances to its flag­ship Dubai Mall store and — ac­cord­ing to the man him­self — things are just get­ting started...

ESQUIRE: First off, con­grat­u­la­tions on the new store. As it’s the first to open in our re­gion, are there any hall­marks of the brand that peo­ple should be aware of? JOHN VARVATOS:

The main thing with the John Varvatos brand is that it is a mas­cu­line, men’s only brand. We’re also a full life­style brand, which means we do ev­ery­thing from for­mal to jean­swear ca­sual to footwear, ac­ces­sories and fra­grances. There seems to be very few other brands in the Dubai Mall’s Fash­ion Av­enue that are fo­cused only on men, so that im­me­di­ately makes us stand out.

ESQ: Is it sim­pler de­sign­ing just for men?

JV: Be­ing able to fo­cus purely on men, means we can have more clar­ity with our mes­sage. In gen­eral, guys like to con­nect with the DNA of a brand. They want to know if your ide­ol­ogy matches theirs, and if so they tend to be crazy loyal. If your jean fit is right for them, then you have them for life. Guys tend to find their look and then over time evolve it. It’s not a rev­o­lu­tion with guys, it’s an evo­lu­tion.

ESQ: Due to the kind of pieces you of­fer, it’s weird to think of John Varvatos as a ‘fash­ion’ brand. JV: I agree. Per­son­ally,

I see us as more of a ‘Style’ brand, not a ‘Fash­ion’ brand. Even though we do run­way shows and peo­ple re­fer to us as part of the fash­ion world. The clothes we do are things that gen­uinely en­dure, pieces that you can pull out of your closet in five years’ time and will feel even bet­ter. We’re not try­ing to change the world, there’s a lot of crazy sh*t hap­pen­ing out there… we just make clothes. If we can help make a man feel con­fi­dent, sexy, strong or what­ever, then there is noth­ing wrong with that. ESQ: How has the brand evolved since it started nearly 20 years ago?

JV: Like any­thing in life, I think you learn and adapt, but the DNA has re­mained the same. I don’t think we look like any­body else. I’ve seen other brands change to em­brace streetwear or chase Gucci, and I’ve seen them lose their orig­i­nal cus­tomer base. Sure, we’ve had to evolve but there is al­ways that com­mon thread that runs through us, with­out ever hav­ing to put a logo on it.

ESQ: You men­tioned the brand’s DNA, a core el­e­ment of which is its ‘re­bel­lious’ spirit. How do you keep that while also be­com­ing com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tion­ally? JV: It’s not easy. There are some days I walk out of meet­ings shak­ing my head, but it’s a bal­ance. That re­bel­lious el­e­ment de­fines the brand. To­day I think the cul­ture is still 93 per­cent re­bel­lious. We’ve worked with a lot of mu­si­cians like Iggy Pop, Green Day and even re­cently with Ma­chine Gun Kelly, and what we’ve found in com­mon is that if you let peo­ple put you in a box — be­cause it is guar­an­teed to make you suc­cess­ful or what­ever — then you will lose what it was that made you spe­cial in the first place.

ESQ: You seem like the kind of guy who tends to go with his gut…

JV: Some­times you have to. One of the best things we ever did was con­vert the old CBGB mu­sic club in

The Bow­ery in New York into a store. We would host in­ti­mate gigs in there for, like, 500 peo­ple, all of who would lose their minds! I had to fight hard to con­vince peo­ple that it was the right lo­ca­tion for us. I asked the team to trust me, and to this day I think it is one of the most im­por­tant

things we have done as a brand — re­in­forc­ing the rebel spirit of the brand. ESQ: With re­spect, the new Dubai Mall store doesn’t feel that Rock ’n’ Roll…

JV: We have three dif­fer­ent de­sign styles for our stores. To be hon­est open­ing a ‘Bow­ery type’ store wouldn’t have worked, with­out the authen­tic set­ting, it would come across very kitsch. The key to the store in the old CBGB lo­ca­tion is that it has those old brick walls that could ‘talk’. The Dubai

Mall store is sim­i­lar to our one on Madi­son Av­enue.

It’s more of an Up­town ver­sion of me — it’s still my aes­thetic, but has a more res­i­den­tial feel to it, and was in­spired by pieces from my ac­tual apart­ment. The Fash­ion Av­enue is su­per so­phis­ti­cated, and so is the client base, so we wanted to mir­ror that.

ESQ: Are you still in the de­sign process?

JV: That’s where I spend most of my time. I like to be in­formed about most things, but I hired a CEO to run the busi­ness side of things be­cause I don’t want it to take away my spark. I try to fo­cus on the cre­ative part of it, the de­sign stu­dio, the mar­ket­ing... I also have record la­bel and am mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary.

ESQ: Yeah? About what?

JV: It’s a four-part se­ries on punk mu­sic. I am di­rect­ing and pro­duc­ing it. It starts in Detroit in 1969 with

Iggy and The Stooges and goes all the way up to the ’90s com­mer­cial­ism with Nir­vana and Green Day. It’s been very in­spir­ing. In fact, it has in­spired my de­sign team for our up­com­ing F/W19 col­lec­tion, which we are call­ing ‘Come As You Are’. It’s not a Nir­vana­grunge col­lec­tion, but my team were in­spired by all the pic­tures and im­agery in my of­fice while I was mak­ing the doc­u­men­tary. ESQ: Where did the mu­sic tie-ins come from?

JV: It was not some­thing I planned on. I think it was a sub­lim­i­nal thing — a sil­hou­ette that I picked up here or a scarf that I used there. In 2005, just after we won awards for our ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, I told my team that we were go­ing to scrap all that and try to own the mu­sic space. Brands had done the mu­sic thing be­fore but no one had re­ally owned that space with iconic artists that tran­scended gen­er­a­tions. Iggy Pop was the first per­son we went to and then we worked with a whole host of oth­ers in­clud­ing artists who had never done a com­mer­cial cam­paign in their lives. I asked, and they said yes. We worked with Ringo Starr a few years ago, and when I asked him he just said to me “What took you so long?”

The Dubai Mall, Dubai. john­var­vatos.com

“WE’RE NOT TRY­ING TO CHANGE THE WORLD…WE ARE JUST MAK­ING CLOTHES. IF WE CAN HELP MAKE A MAN FEEL CON­FI­DENT, SEXY OR STRONG, THEN THERE IS NOTH­ING WRONG WITH THAT.”

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