John Varvatos Opens Up

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The most famous Greek-American designer is the opposite of the hysteric character Miranda in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, because he has a great relationship with the employees of his company and takes care of them. Many times, all together have dinner, he helps them set the stores up and he would be ashamed to own a private jet. His name, however, is put together in the American and International market with such names as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. The music band Aerosmith and other music stars ask him to design clothes to wear when they go on tour. He was born in Michigan where he also went to college and got his bachelors degree, but one day found himself working for Ralph Lauren. Today he has created his own company which is based in new York. He is married and he has a 20-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old son. He is a good friend of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, but he does not lead the same lifestyle (even if he has the economic ability), for example when he travels he does not like to stay in luxurious suites. During our interview in his Melrose store I tried to find out if the famous designer is a simple guy or he just fakes it. I understood that he is a down to earth person because I saw him working in the store, doing even what a sales person would do and further more he traveled from New York to Los Angeles to contribute to a fundraising for an organization that helps abused kids.

 How did you get involved in fashion?

When I was in the last day of class of high school I had to get a job because my family was not in its best financial state. I got a job at store that was selling clothes for men as a sales person. I continued working even when I went to university. When graduated I was teaching chemistry part time but I continued to work in the means store because I liked it. Then I found a partner and we opened a men’s clothe store together and after three years I left the partnership and I went to work for Ralph Lauren in Chicago as sales manager for the South West U.S.A. I did it well in that job and after I was promoted to sales manager of the whole company and because of this I went to New York. There I began to work with the designers and see how they work. I really enjoyed working with them and I decided to take classes in designing in the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was going almost everyday to school after my job in Ralph Lauren. One day Ralph calls me in his office and told me that he was informed that I was taking designing classes and asked me what I wanted to do. I said I liked to design and after to weeks I was in the designing department of Ralph Lauren. After I became the head of the designing department in Calvin Klein and then I went back to Ralph Lauren. In 2000 I left and I opened my own company.

How did the companies that you used to work for reacted to the idea that you would start your own company?

I left and I maintained very good relation with the companies, and with many designers we are still friends. On the other hand there will always be competition but this is not bad. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren helped me in the beginning. Especially with Ralph we are still very good friends

What is your favorite piece of clothing?

I love vintage. A piece that I always like and wear is a leather jacket that I bought when I was in high school.

What are your plans for the future of your company?

The company gets bigger and bigger every day. We are planning to open more stores in the USA, Asia and our first ones in Europe. My goal is to become better day by day. This is what was happening during our first six years and I want to continue in the same way.

Have you designed costumes for movies?

We often give clothes from our collections to many productions but I have never designed something specifically for a movie. We have worked with many rock bands and singers though. Recently we have designed clothes for bands such as Velvet Revolver, Aerosmith, Stooges and for singers such as Ryan Adams and Jack White. The media, however tend not to be interested in men’s fashion, at least not as they are with women’s. Journalists rarely ask a male on the red carpet what is he wearing. Our clothes are on the red carpet events and this is important, but it is not as with some women’s designers. And am not obsessed with that as they are other designers. If some famous people were our clothes in these events fine, if not this will not make me sad. I don’t care. There are many designers that want to dress everybody on the red carpet events, I am interested to dress as many everyday people as possible.

 Your clothes are more wore by rock types?

I think rock types like them for sure. Personally I enjoy music as nothing else and it is great when musicians that I really admire, as for example the Aerosmith, call me and ask me to design clothes for their next tour.

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How could you describe a typical John Varvatos customer and fan?

I don’t think there is a typical type of customer in our stores. It is a very different, broad and unusual mix of people with different cultures that buy our clothes. There is the cool young guy type from East Village in New York, rock types, even older, a little bit conservative people in their fifties who want to have some relation with fashion and they like the materials we use to make the clothes. For example, one day I was in one of our stores in New York and one customer in his forties came to buy a suit and brought with him his fourteen and sixteen year old sons who bought shoes and t-shirts. After that, the actor Ian McKellen who is in his seventies came to buy the converse shoes. A little while before we close for that day Edge from U2 walked in the store. That night I went to my home and I was so happy because I realized that somehow I managed to create products that many different people with different personalities can appreciate and enjoy.

Are you interested in politics?

 I want to know what goes on around the planet but I never mix politics with business. I am trying to understand what goes on in U.S.A. and I express my opinion and some thoughts through my clothes. One of my companies, John Varvatos Star USA, has the logo of piece and this was a public statement I wanted to make. This logo was created when the war in Iraq started and we wanted to pass the message of peace. Actually combined with the rock element means “peace rocks”.

Are you anti – war?

100%. I am also anti – Bush. I think that this person cannot represent America. Wherever I travel I see that people respect USA but do not respect our president and I do not like this fact.

Do you think that he likes your clothes and he could probably wear them?

I don’t think he likes them and I wouldn’t want him to wear them.

Did you find the right candidate for the next election?

No, but I do not think it is very difficult to find somebody better than Mr. Bush. We just need a strong president. The world has to see that we have a strong person for president.

Do you have any stores in the Middle East?

No, but we send a big part of our production there which is sold in other stores. We do business very well in the Middle East and because of this I think that politics do not affect emotionally the citizens but the governments.

Can you describe us your collaboration with Converse?

It started five or six years ago when I created my first collection. They called me and told me that they were interested in creating something together because they liked the vintage element in my clothes and our two different styles could create a very good mix. I grew up wearing All Star as many others did and I was very happy to work with them. Today we are in the sixth year of our collaboration and it has been excellent. People from all over the world discover my company and my name through the All Star shoes that we created.

Would you like to create more affordable products and open your company to the masses?

At this point of my career no. We are trying to be the best in what we do, in this type of clothes we create. On the other hand we already have the John Varvatos Star USA which is a company that targets to a younger audience and for example you can buy a suit with 800$ instead of buying a suit from the collection which might be 1.500$.

Do you ever go and work at your stores?

When I have time I wear a pair of jeans and I go the stores and work like all my employees do. When we change our stores because their is a new collection I go myself and carry boxes and put clothe on the selves. Sometimes after we finish I take everybody out for dinner and I have a great time going out with people that work in our stores. Now we are opening a store in New Hampshire and I have marked 4 days on my calendar to go and help set up the store.

Do you see any similarities between the real world of fashion and the movie “Devil Wears Prada”?

I think there is a lot of truth in it. I am a member of the board of the Fashion Designers Association and I often meet many personalities that are similar with Miranda. There are many megalomaniacs but there are also many designers that are down to earth people and have great talent. Personally I do not belong in the fashion scene. I am a designer that when I have free time I do not go to stay in a hotel’s suite but in a small town in the north part of the state of New York. I have a simple house there and I prefer to spend my time with normal people that have not any relationship with the fashion business.

Have you been in Greece?

Once. When I was little my parents always wanted to take the family and visit Greece but we did not have the money. My family was not rich. Later I was in school and I was working too so there was no time. Then again I started my career in fashion and again there was not time. Unfortunately I travel mostly for business and in Athens I have been once, two years ago, when we introduced our products to the Greek market. I always wanted to go and because of that when I went out from the plane and as I was going to the center of Athens I was emotionally shocked went I saw the Acropolis. I stayed only two days and my relatives did not believe me when I told them that I could not see due to my busy schedule. This summer I am planning to come for vacation and I hope after that I can come every year.

Do you have Greek-American friends?

When I was in Michigan there was Greek-American community and I was going to the Greek school but after I lost contact with the Greek element. When I came to New York and I started my business Melina Kanakaredes called me and told me that she liked my clothes and she wanted to meet me. We did not know each other before that. She came with her husband and we all had lunch. From then she is one of my best friends.

Did your lifestyle change when you became successful?

When I was a child me and the other 6 members of my family used to live in a three bed-room house . When I started working for Ralph Lauren my financial state changed and I started to live a better life. I never had a luxurious lifestyle though. I just live well. Even now all my money are invested back in the business so I cannot say that I am really rich.

Do you have a private jet?

No, I would be ashamed if I had one. I don’t like to have the crazy rich life. Recently I received a call from a magazine and they asked me what was the best most luxurious suite I have ever stayed. I said that this is not the way I travel. I like to travel well but I don’t stay in suites. I am not this type of person.

Do your children want to follow your path in fashion?

The only relationship that my daughter has with fashion is that she likes to spend money shopping clothes. My son is completely opposite of the idea of fashion. He wears All Star shoes but the classic ones not even these that I designed.


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