If New York Fashion Week: Men’s were a music festival, John Varvatos would have been the headliner. The American menswear designer went last and went big at #NYFWM, with a rockin’ runway show which people jostled to get into beforehand and fought during to take photos.
We meet Varvatos backstage to talk about the England-meets-SoCal inspiration behind his stripe-y spring/summer 2016 collection–a lot of it had to do with a guitar player whose name rhymes with Beef Pritchards–and why he forewent his regular runway show in Milan in favor of New York.
He also resurrected legendary NYC punk-rock club CBGB, casts grizzled rock gods in his ad campaigns, and designs sneaker collabs with Converse (arguably the most rock-and-roll shoe to ever walk the earth). The Detroit-born designer’s latest homage to loud sounds is a volume of iconic photos, entitled John Varvatos: Rock in Fashion. The book explores the reciprocal relationship between audio and visual, underscoring how acts ranging from Pink Floyd to The Clash and Axl Rose to Alice Cooper have influenced the world with their style and mannerisms as much as with their music.
Keep reading for a glimpse at some of our favorite photos from the book—plus a Q&A with John Varvatos himself.
Our study in Fall contrast continues with clean-cut prep, worn-in leather, streamlined stripes, and woodsy plaid from some of our favorite Designer Collections. Photographed at Kubota Garden, a 20-acre sanctum of lush pines nestled amongst the stark pavement of south Seattle. [See part 1 of this series.]
Yin and yang. Light and shade. Concrete and jungle. Life is a study in contrasts—and your Fall wardrobe should be, too.
To fully meditate on Fall’s dense tweeds, intricate knits, revved-up leather, and sturdy workwear, we took our favorite Designer Collections to Seattle’s historical, 20-acre wooded oasis, Kubota Garden—as well as the surrounding urban sprawl. The conclusion is clear: Fall’s best clothes feel calm, cool and collected, whether you’re in nature’s domain or the wilds of the city.
There’s no rest for the weary when it comes to Fashion Week (which, between London, Milan and Paris becomes more like Fashion Month). After some stellar shows in London last week (like Burberry and Rag & Bone), this past weekend was packed with heavy hitters in Milan. Check out videos of some of the best Spring/Summer 2014 shows below. [Above: Neil Barrett, via Bruce Pask’s Instagram.]
Following in a tradition that’s shone the spotlight on rock legends like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Perry Farrell and Slash, the latest John Varvatos campaign features perhaps the most hallowed guitar god of all time, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, alongside blues-rock rising star Gary Clark Jr.
Designer John Varvatos had the following to say about the campaign, which was inspired by classic black-and-white portraiture and shot by Danny Clinch at London’s Rivoli Ballroom: “Jimmy Page has been a music and fashion icon of mine since 1970. He has been a major influence, and I am honored to call Jimmy a friend. Gary Clark Jr. is the real deal—an amazing guitar player, singer, songwriter and friend. Having ‘The Master and The Young Guitar-Slinger’ together in our campaign is a dream come true.”
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As cool as the campaign imagery is, we’re just as interested in the music that inspired it. Below are John Varvatos’s personal favorite Led Zeppelin tunes—handpicked by the designer himself, exclusively for Men’s Shop Daily. [Song selections are his, commentary is ours.]
1. ‘Tangerine’ – Given Zeppelin’s reputation for practically inventing the brute force of what’s now known as heavy metal, it’s interesting to see Varvatos’s first pick highlight a sentimental ballad from the band’s folksy third record, 1970’s Led Zeppelin III. We’ve included a live version from the infamous 1975 Earls Court shows as well—largely because it’s a trip to hear frontman Robert Plant’s between-song musings uttered in his proper English lilt. (It’s easy to forget how soft-spoken he is, considering moments like the Viking howls that open the same album.)
2. ‘Kashmir’ – This epic from 1975’s Physical Graffiti puts the band’s signature sense of sheer force on full display—even with a tempo that’s methodically plodding, and the lion’s share of decibels emanating only from Page’s guitar and John Bonham’s measured drum pattern (bassist John Paul Jones mans keyboards on this one). Again, we pulled from the classic ’75 Earls Court performances, to hear Plant’s backstory…And also included an excerpt of Page jamming with Jack White and The Edge, from the 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud.
3. ‘Dazed and Confused’ – One of Led Zep’s most recognizable acid-blues masterpieces, characterized by the dream-like solo section in which Page routinely wailed on his guitar with a violin bow, is in fact a cover of a 1967 song written by Jake Holmes. We’ve always thought Zeppelin’s studio version, which appeared on their eponymous 1969 debut, sounded a bit stilted. The live versions above (left, from disc one of the live compilation BBC Sessions; right, a purportedly ‘lost version’ we just discovered on the internet) are loose, loud, brimming with the band’s patented improvised interactions between members, and feel like they might explode in a frenzy and/or fizzle out in disarray at any moment. In other words, Led Zeppelin at its best.
4. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – The pulsating, overdriven rhythm that opens 1969’s Led Zeppelin II erased any notion of a sophomore slump—and inspired decades of visceral guitar riffs to come. Page described the snarling amp tone as ‘rude,’ and if you’re able to decipher Plant’s feral yelps, his lyrics are none too polite either. The studio version (left, above) is solid gold (literally)—but we included the live version (right) because seeing Bonham’s blur of drumsticks during the psychedelic interlude makes it even more transfixing. Extra credit: Check out this 13-minute BBC version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that gets rudely interrupted by a raucous montage of Zeppelin’s blues influences, from John Lee Hooker to Elvis Presley.
5. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ – The band had legions of fans since their first record—but with stratospheric successes like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV went 23x platinum in America alone. One of the record’s most satisfying sonic moments requires sticking around for the final track (based on a 1929 song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, about the Great Mississippi Flood). The transition from muddy, minor-key verses to Page’s glimmering guitar chords at 2:30 never gets old—nor do Bonham’s steadily thundering drums, which even the Beastie Boys (at their rowdiest in 1986) had to respect.
6. ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ – Any amateur guitar picker worth his weight in sheet music has tried his hand at the tricky opening notes of this one—but it’s the turns the song takes from there that are more indicative of the Led Zeppelin ethos. While the band always dabbled in a variety of styles (folk, funk, eastern, medieval, orchestral, even reggae), here, multiple influences unfold seamlessly within a single song. The 1979 live version to the right displays an unapologetically brutal guitar tone from Page—an interesting choice given the song’s tender start and finish.
7. ‘Heartbreaker’ – Another tour de force from Zeppelin’s sophomore album (which remains perhaps the most crystalline embodiment of the blues-rock building blocks that informed their entire career). Again, the studio recording (left) is classic, but small details kick the live BBC version (right) into overdrive: Bonham’s furious fills, Jones’s gnarly bass sound, the brief ode to Bach during Page’s famous unaccompanied solo, and Plant’s upper-octave shriek that punctuates the final note.
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John Varvatos was also kind enough to recommend his 3 favorite tunes by Gary Clark Jr., who appears alongside Jimmy Page in the campaign imagery above. The New York Times has called Clark Jr. the next Jimi Hendrix (the third track below happens to incorporate a Hendrix cover)—take a listen for yourself:
John Varvatos, Detroit-born menswear designer (and rock aficionado—he built his flagship store inside the legendary punk-club ruins of CBGB), unveiled his latest collection over the weekend in Milan. Expanding on the brand’s core aesthetic of English dandy meets NYC snarl, next Fall’s clothes seem to explore references that reach even further, resulting in a vibe that spans time, geography, and works of fiction. One song remains the same: As dressed-up as Varvatos’ gents get, one always gets the impression they can hold their liquor…and hold their own in a dark alley.
Boardwalk Vampire. Part prohibition-era Buscemi, with a drop of Bram Stoker. Varvatos’ razor-sharp tailoring goes shady and sinister.
Oxblood & Ink. Whereas Jil Sander’s color pops are primary, Varvatos’ are muted and moody.
Young Guns. Weathered textures, cocked brims and beat-up boots took a left-turn from East Coast to Wild West. (Click images to enlarge.)
In the spirit of the holidays, we asked some of our favorite brands and designers a simple question with a rarely simple answer: What’s you favorite gift? Answers ranged from prized possessions they’ve received, to a signature item to give, to less-tangible ‘gifts’ that can’t be bought. Though they vary wildly, the answers below all have one thing in common: They give an unmistakable look into each brand’s ethos. Scroll down to get inside the minds of America’s best designers (and click the links to start deciding how to spend that Nordstrom Gift Card that Grandma gave you).
Heavy Medals from Legendary Friends. “My favorite gifts are from my friends Jimmy Page and Alice Cooper, who gave me their gold and platinum record awards, respectively. These are framed in my office and commemorate 500,000 and 1 million copies of albums sold—a phenomenal achievement that I get to hang on my wall and see every day.” —John Varvatos
Bulls Tickets, 1989. “The best gift I ever received came from my sister: my niece Isabella. The second-best I got from my parents in 1989 for Christmas: Two tickets to see Michael Jordan play at Chicago Stadium with my dad. I was 10. Jordan scored 42 points against the Golden State Warriors; I’ll never forget how loud it was when they announced his entrance.” —Andy Dunn of Bonobos
A Bronzed Artifact. “This is a gift I received from Michael Stipe after we collaborated on an art project of his. He took a Diana/Lomo camera (similar quality to lighting filters used on Instagram) and cast it in bronze. I love the idea of low/high art and technology. A low-tech, cheap plastic camera, immortalized in bronze. This gift I will have and appreciate forever.” —Rogan Gregory of Rogan
A Family Tree. “My favorite thing about the holidays is the huge tree we do every year. My wife is a Christmas ornament freak, so we load it down with white lights and tons of ornaments. My favorites are the homemade ones the children make. We decorate with all-natural clippings of pine, cedar, boxwood, holly and magnolia—using fresh keeps things simple. Most important is to relax and enjoy the family and special time of year.” —Billy Reid
Iowa’s Best-Kept Secret. “All of my friends and family get a bottle of Templeton Rye, a small-batch rye whiskey based on a Prohibition-era recipe that was made in Templeton, Iowa. Since I’m from Iowa, the connection is obvious—and there’s no better way to warm up a cold, holiday night than with a nice glass of Templeton.” —Todd Snyder
The Original Hand-Held Device. “Does this really need any explanation as to why it’s my favorite? I was 10. It’s a Game Boy. Nuff said.” —Sam Shipley of Shipley & Halmos
Christmas in Jamaica. “Last week, my wife treated me to a one-week getaway in Jamaica as my early Xmas gift. We stayed at a gorgeous private villa (Round Hill) overlooking the sea and Montego Bay. The gift included tennis lessons—definitely the best gift ever. The only downside is that now I have to treat her to something even more special!” —Dexter Peart of WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie
Late-’80s Pentax 67 Medium Format with Super Takumar 75mm 1:4.5 Lens. “Growing up, the Pentax 6×7 or 67 was one of the cameras I always lusted after but was never able to afford. With the advent of digital, these cameras are now extremely good value as vintage, in comparison to their original prices. I had been watching this camera on eBay as a ‘buy now’ option for a while, but not biting the bullet on it, and obviously boring my wife to death about it—so much so, that without my knowledge, she bout it for me. So I ended up getting one of my favorite presents and fulfilling a childhood dream at the same time.” —Cuan Hanly of Jack Spade
One-of-a-Kind Artwork. [It’s a tie. Left]: “White tiger…on a purple crystal…in fog…in space…on a collector’s plate…framed. The best part is the warning on the back that it ‘may poison food.’ I got it from a member of our creative team a few years ago—probably in an attempt to actually poison me.” [Right]: “The photo of a naked girl sitting in the woods with a unicorn is also in the running. Have you ever had a photo shoot with a unicorn? Those things never sit still. And they demand giant dressing rooms, and green M&Ms, and are total divas. They really just aren’t worth dealing with.” —Todd Masters of Toddland
After six months of impeccable outfits (and exclusive insights from GQ Creative Director Jim Moore), this is the last of our GQ Selects posts! At least for now. Let’s finish things off with a look that’s quintessentially GQ: From the sharply tailored suit to the semi-spread collar, and from the $15 tie bar to the splashy socks, our favorite magazine’s signature touches are all here.
Dolce&Gabbana Solid Suit.“To put it simply, Dolce&Gabbana has mastered the modern black suit. From the duo’s focus on a body-hugging fit with a shorter jacket and trim pant legs, to the perfect lapel width to pair with a skinny tie, this is a two-piece any man can feel confident investing in.” —Jim Moore, GQ Creative Director
(shop this item)
John Varvatos Collection Trim-Fit Stripe Dress Shirt. “Any guy looking to add some pattern into his weekday wardrobe in a conservative office should reach for a striped dress shirt. The vertical lines add subtle visual interest to any outfit, while the semi-spread collar works for every occasion, be it with a tie to close a big deal, or going open-collar to grab a celebratory drink afterwards.” —Jim Moore, GQ Creative Director (shop this item)
Salvatore Ferragamo ‘Faraone’ Cap-Toe Oxford. “When you buy a pair of Ferragamo shoes, you’re not only getting fine Italian craftsmanship that will last a lifetime, but you’re also getting great design. In the brand’s deft hands, a standard cap-toe silhouette has its vamp elongated and toe tapered ever so slightly—slight tweaks that create a more elegant option for the office or a night out.” —Jim Moore, GQ Creative Director (shop this item)
New Yorkers: There’s still time to shop our expertly curated GQ x Nordstrom pop-up shop in NYC, featuring Other Music, Dashwood Books, Warby Parker glasses, and tons of incredible menswear, of course.
Did we mention the GQ & Nordstrom Men’s Shop is located at our Treasure & Bond concept store in Soho? That means anything you buy there, in-person, benefits a rotating lineup of children’s charities in NYC. Currently, it’s the National Dance Institute and Girls Write Now. Do it for the kids!
We’re getting tons of great coverage from our friends at Treasure & Bond. Above is a time-lapse video that shows the mad race to prep the shop (over a span of barely more than 24 hours) last week, as well as some high-speed mingling at the opening-night event. Below are pics from the events that have been occurring at the GQ & Nordstrom Men’s Shop all week long—head over to Treasure & Bond’s official website to see tons more.