Rocker Chic was taken to an entirely new level at last night’s “Rock in Fashion” book signing for designer and author John Varvatos at Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills. Rock royalty musicians Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, and legendary rock n roll photographer Mick Rock joined Varvatos to talk music and fashion. Stylish guests sipped Whiskey Mules while flipping through Varvatos’ new book and shopping the latest Fall 2013 merchandise. I sat down with the designer earlier in the evening.
NM: Describe what it was like growing up in Detroit during the late 1960s and 1970s.
JV: It was not only a complicated time in Detroit with the riots; it was also a complicated time in this country, trying to understand the Vietnam War. Detroit was the melting pot of music and that is what I latched onto. I grew up in a very humble household, with seven people and one tiny bathroom. Once I got old enough to know that it was crowded, I wanted space and music was the thing I went to. I can remember putting on my headphones to be in my own world, listening to some of my favorite bands – Iggy and The Stooges, Alice Cooper, MC5 and Bob Seger.
NM: How has rock & roll style influenced your work?
JV: Hugely, I think music and fashion are so intertwined. It’s not so literal that music has influenced my work; it’s more about putting an edge on what I do and being more aggressive. It’s also the energy of the music, not always something so obvious when you look at it. And, I never thought it was obvious until 3-4 years after we launched the brand. We had all of these musicians shopping and we said, “I guess we have something there.” A year or two later we embraced it and started using iconic artists in our ad campaigns and that really changed the way I started thinking about a lot of things. At that point, every year people thought of me as this music and fashion guy and I had to not let them down, no matter what I was doing I had to still talk to that too.
NM: Which musicians in particular have influenced you most?
JV: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page & The Stooges were most influential. They still come into my mind and my thought process. People I see on the streets, artists I work with today also influence my work, but they don’t keep coming back. There is a picture in my book of The Stooges album cover and I can remember being young and sitting with that album cover, listening to the album, reading every bit about it and I wanted to be those guys. When you look at this photo of The Stooges today, they could be any band. At the time they didn’t look like anybody. In 1970 you were either a “hippie” or your were “glamy.” Nobody was wearing skinny motorcycle jackets and skinny jeans with ribs. And, then bands like the Ramones followed them.
NM: Describe how evolving styles in rock have impacted fashion and pop culture over the past five decades.
JV: It’s interesting because you see the influence on every generation. You look at Lenny Kravitz and you see his Jimi Hendrix influence. Mumford and Sons, and a lot of these bands with that Americana ilk, look like The Band and when you ask them who their favorite bands are they tell you those artists. It’s not so different with fashion. Designers are influenced by things around them, but if you truly want to have your own handwriting it has to be authentic. There can be history because the men’s jacket doesn’t change that much. The challenge is to make it yours. That’s what I did, I saw Jimmy Page with a scarf and I mixed it with a leather jacket that The Stooges wore.
NM: Which musician or musicians working today do you most admire (in terms of style) and why?
JV: Kings of Leon. They always look cool, they always look skinny, but they always look cool. Their style is evolving, even down to their hair â they were shaggy and now they have shorter hair. I like that it’s not a one trick pony. That’s what I loved about people like David Bowie he had an evolution and was always very stylish. Gary Clark Junior who was in our ad campaign last year with Jimmy Page. He’s one of the best looking stylish guys, he puts on a t-shirt and looks amazing. It’s like Steve Mcqueen for me growing up, he had on jeans and a t-shirt and people would say, “why Steve Mcqueen?” and I would say, “it’s the way he carries himself.”
NM: What is your favorite music memory?
JV: Having lunch with Jimmy Page