For a designer as calm and collected as John Varvatos — a big fish in that littler pond of men’s wear?— picking this moment to jump into the ocean of women’s wear seems about as well calculated as swimming naked with sharks.

The 49-year-old designer was already a seasoned hand, with experience at Polo Ralph Lauren and CK Calvin Klein, before he launched his signature label in 2000 in partnership with Nautica Enterprises, and he shot to fame in men’s wear right off the bat. With his down-the-middle formula of classic haberdashery spiced up with a minute dose of fashion-forwardness, Varvatos won two consecutive men’s wear awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, beginning with his very first collection. He seemed to be on the fast track for expansion, one that already encompasses four stores across the country and prime real estate in the best department stores.

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