By  on February 16, 2006

NEW YORK — Converse and John Varvatos are stepping out this fall.For the past three-and-a-half years, Varvatos has been partnering with the iconic footwear brand and reinterpreting its signature Chuck Taylor, All Star and Jack Purcell shoes in limited editions. Now, the Nike-owned brand is extending the collaboration with a contemporary sportswear collection for women and men designed by Varvatos.Converse offers some licensed apparel outside the U.S., but this is the first time it is launching a complete clothing collection by a designer. For Converse, the launch is part of a strategy to become a lifestyle brand. "When John began the initial collaboration, it instantly added to the reinvigoration of the brand with a designer perspective," said David McTague, Converse's president of apparel and accessories. "Our intention is to build a lifestyle brand that is equal or surpasses the footwear business."Sitting in Converse's Chelsea showroom earlier this week, Varvatos said he was inspired in part by Converse's cool heritage when conceptualizing the apparel. "There's always been a street aspect, starting with James Dean in the Fifties to the Ramones, and the punk movement, which embraced Converse," Varvatos said.The launch collection for fall, which is labeled Converse by John Varvatos, mixes vintage references with an urban downtown feel. Varvatos designed crinkled tops, layered T-shirts, slouchy sweaters, tailored jackets, parkas, ponchos and skinny jeans, as well as more formal pants. Pieces include a crinkled vest with a low neckline, a hooded fleece top, a military parka, sweatpants with lacing detail culled from the signature sneakers, and herringbone pants with a hand-beaded stripe running along the side. "We wanted the collection to have a designer point of view. We wanted that level of finishing and detail," Varvatos said. He mixed new and vintage fabrics, and added details such as a good-luck penny or clover charm sewn into the labels or lining. There are also T-shirts printed with cheeky phrases such as "Chuck is God," "Chuck Buddy" and "Mother Chucker."As for the target customer, Varvatos said, "She is 18 to 35, has a playful side to her, and embraces the idea of mixing the collection. She can throw things together with a lot of ease. Doing women's, the canvas is so much broader. We wanted every piece to feel like it's a great find."The designer said the Converse line will surely influence his signature collection, where women's apparel has been on hold since last fall, though he is looking to relaunch it within the next 18 months. "There is a part that can be more athletic, which I don't really do in my own collection," he said. Suggested retail prices for the Converse line range from $95 to $195 for knitwear; $165 to $395 for sweaters; $175 to $195 for bottoms; $295 to $795 for outerwear and jackets; $55 to $125 for vintage T-shirts and tanks, and $175 to $195 for denim. The apparel collection targets better specialty stores, which also tend to carry premium denim, as well as the five John Varvatos boutiques. McTague said for the fall launch, Converse will target about 40 doors nationwide and 10 to 15 doors globally, with wholesale sales projected between $3 million and $5 million.The apparel launch is a sign of how Converse is being revived under the ownership of Nike, which acquired the footwear brand in 2003.In future seasons, Converse plans to expand the collaboration into accessories, and other lifestyle categories. "The intention is to expand into other categories strategically over the next 10 to 15 years," McTague said. "It's most important for us to establish the fashion footprint, and it takes time."

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