John Varvatos: A Decade of Rock

The CFDA Award-Winning Designer Really Loves His Music Memorabilia

John Varvatos is the fashion world’s preeminent rock’n’roll fanboy. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, he developed an early passion for the showmanship and style of 70s greats such as Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin (the first two bands he saw live), and spent much of his youth trying to “look more like a rock star.” This necessitated many outfit changes of course, a fact that led him to take part time jobs in fashion retail throughout his youth. He eventually landed gigs as a designer at Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein before launching his own self-titled label in 2000, translating his rock influences into tailored silhouettes; in the decade that’s followed he has become one of America’s top menswear designers and many of the musicians he idolized as a teenager are now Varvatos converts. Iggy Pop, Perry Farrell and Franz Ferdinand have starred in Varvatos campaigns, and all three currently take their place among other rock luminaries that are collaged together, Sargeant Pepper style, for the 2010 ad campaign. To celebrate ten years of Varvatos’s work, NOWNESS visited his office for a tour of his rock keepsakes.


We shot Velvet Revolver for our ad campaign when Slash was in the band, and at the end of the shoot he gave me this hat. The guitar beneath is signed by the group.

Robert Plant wrote a letter to me when he discovered us. We dressed him for the Grammys last year when he and Alison Krauss won five awards for their Raising Sands album. It’s a pretty long thing, thanking me for working with him, saying that he loves the clothes, and that he really hasn’t been drawn to fashion in recent years but he’s got an affinity for what we have done. 

• Directly behind me is a picture of Jimi Hendrix. To the right of it is another of Hendrix that’s signed. I bought it in a charity auction—it was pretty amazing because it’s usually impossible to find those things. 

There’s a picture of Iggy Pop and I sitting out in the rain with an umbrella over both of us. We were laughing because we were talking about Detroit—we both grew up in the Detroit area. It’s such a great picture, because you always think of him as this tough crazy guy, but he’s got this great big smile on his face. It was one of those special moments. 

I’ve got a poster that the guys from Cheap Trick sent to me. Their most famous album was Cheap Trick at Budokan, and [when they went back to Japan] they used our ad campaign picture for the poster for the return to the arena. They all signed it, and there’s a note on it: “There’s absolutely no reason for you not to be here with us.”





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