Rock steady

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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 – Glass 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 evolution than 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.

by Renata Certo-Ware

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