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