John Varvatos Interview

Next week, Menswear Designer John Varvatos will be visiting South Florida to toast the opening of his Bal Harbour Shops-based boutique. In fact, 25 percent of the sales from the invite-only event to be held on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 will benefit the Bass Museum of Art

“As a kid growing up, I always wanted to be a musician or rock star,” Varvatos says of his beginnings. Blaming his lack of musical talent, it is evident Varvatos’ Plan B — helming a lucrative eponymous fashion label — makes him a fashion rock star in his own right.

But before the fame, one most fully grasp Varvatos’ unpretentious upbringing in Detroit, Michigan. “I recall it as very humbling. We grew up in a simple household with seven people in a very small home under 1,000 square feet with one little bathroom. It was very loving and filled with culture as well,” Varvatos says of his Greek-American roots.

At the time, Detroit was considered the musical melting pot of America — an amalgamation of Motown, Rock & Roll, Blues, Jazz and Punk. Varvatos took a strong liking to music at an early age and played guitar in a spate of garage bands — one of them called Sweet Wine — with his cousins. “None of us were any good,” he laughs of the hobby.

He attended college at the University of Michigan were he worked in retail at a men’s shop to pay his way through his schooling. After graduating, Varvatos partnered in a store in Grand Rapids, Michigan called Fitzgerald’s where he honed his skills on the day-to-day operations of running a retail business. Then, in 1984, an opportunity with Ralph Lauren altered the course of his life forever.

“It was fate. I happened to be at the right place, at the right time with the right sensibility. I could have made a right or left turn just prior to that and my life would have been completely different than it is now. There’s no way that if I hadn’t accepted the job with Ralph Lauren that I would be where I am today,” Varvatos says of the decision. At age 29, it was only then that he began to formally study design, taking night classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

In 1990, Calvin Klein recruited him as Head of Menswear Design where he oversaw the launch of the men’s collection. And, yes, we have Varvatos to thank for pioneering the omnipresent boxer brief underwear Mark Wahlberg made infamous in those titillating advertisements. “The boxer brief was one of those things that if I had a dollar for everyone I sold, I wouldn’t be on the phone with you. I’d be down on the beach in Miami hanging out with you,” he jokes.

“It was an exciting time because when I took over the men’s business, the company’s underwear business was around $30 million and when I left four years later, it was close to $400 million. It was great to be part of that,” Varvatos says of his Calvin Klein heydays. In 1995, he returned to Ralph Lauren where he was appointed Head of Menswear Design.

It was time to go solo. In 2000, Varvatos launched his premiere men’s collection at age 44. “I was a late bloomer to be going out on your own. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t cocky. I wasn’t over confident. I really had the skill set and the knowledge. More important than the vision is the execution,” he says.

Obsessed with rock and roll — its innovative and stylish ethos is at the heart of his brand. With 21 shops peppered throughout the U.S., Varvatos is a formidable fashion tour de force. He’s tackled television as a celebrity mentor on Fashion Star, penned a book entitled John Varvatos: Rock in Fashion and launched John Varvatos Records.

As for his upcoming trip to the Magic City he says, “I love the culture of Miami. Like myself, it’s so eclectic. There’s a different vibe from South Beach to Bal Harbour to the Art District. It’s a blend of so many cultures.”

Spoken like a true rock star.


Travel spot: Mustique Island

Scent: Leather

Vice: Tequila

Color: Black

Last meal on earth: Greek spanakopita