NEW YORK — John Varvatos last week confirmed that he plans to open a boutique at the former site of the seminal East Village music club CBGB.
Among the ideas under consideration is a special merchandise mix geared to a rock & roll customer, including a new, store-exclusive collection, from which a portion of the proceeds would benefit an artist development fund.
“It’s my baby and I’m going to have my hand on it every step of the way,” said the 52-year-old designer, who is renowned for his love of music and his brand’s alliance with the rock scene through ad campaigns and event sponsorships. He guessed that he had attended over 100 shows at the club over the years.
“I’ve been a huge music nut since I was a young kid, and when I came to New York I spent a lot of time at CBGB. I was saddened, like a lot of people, when it closed,” Varvatos said. He came into the space almost by happenstance, when he was next door for an entirely separate purpose, he said. Once inside, he was inspired to keep the club’s spirit alive.
CBGB OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass and Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers) was founded in 1973 and, despite its namesake musical styles, became a forum for rock and punk bands including Blondie, Talking Heads, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Ramones and Green Day. It closed in October 2006.
“I thought we should do something to honor what it was, instead of seeing it turn into a deli or a bank or whatever,” Varvatos said. “There will be very much a history of music in that space.” However, the store will not feature the CBGB name on any signage or merchandise. “We have no rights to that name and no intention to use it in any way,” Varvatos said, adding that it would be identifiable in other ways.
Like in the old bathrooms that were infamous for dense graffiti, foul odors and illicit behavior? No. “The bathrooms are something that will just stay in all of our memory,” he said.
The boutique will occupy 3,300 square feet of the original club space—but not the entire building—at 315 Bowery, on the former Skid Row that is now home to a chic hotel and a Whole Foods Market.
“I don’t think the Bowery is going to become a mall,” he said. “I want to see the area still have a cool vibe.” The leaseholder and Varvatos are on the hunt for a co-tenant that would share their sensibilities. Of the lease terms, Varvatos would only say that “it’s a long-term lease.” The design process is starting this month, with construction beginning in December, and the opening slated for March.
“There’s definitely going to be a feeling that you’ve been there before,” the designer said.
The store will likely feature a permanent stage, which will be home to a new-artist performance series.
The assortment will include products from all collections—including John Varvatos, Star USA and Converse by John Varvatos—but chosen selectively. “You definitely won’t find a pink linen shirt in this store. All of the items in this store will have a decidedly rock & roll edge to them,” he said.
Questioned about revenue targets for the store, Varvatos replied, “Honestly, my goal is to make the rent payment. It’s not about making this a monster business. It’s about creating something for our brand that we’re really proud of ... and that speaks to our brand and what we’re about.”
Currently the designer has five boutiques—West Hollywood and Costa Mesa, Calif., Las Vegas and East Hampton and Soho in New York. A San Francisco store is in the works for next fall.
By no means does the Bowery store signal a fading commitment to Soho, Varvatos stressed. The Soho store is significantly larger, with 5,500 square feet, and Varvatos intends to keep it for “easily” 10 more years, he said. “If you’ve ever been there on a weekend you know that store is rockin’. We plan on being a foothold in Soho for a long time.”
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