NEW YORK — John Varvatos wants the uptown guy too.
This story first appeared in the March 6, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The designer has unveiled a 4,200-square-foot flagship at 765 Madison Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets that is a major leap into the thick of luxury retailing for the brand. The store is not far from the likes of Tom Ford, Hermès and Michael Kors, and within walking distance from Barneys New York.
For Varvatos, the flagship marks the beginning of a retail push, as well as other projects, including a record label (more on that later).
“We have a big retail rollout strategy. The Madison Avenue store is a big step,” Varvatos said, sitting in his office, which betrays his passion for music with images of iconic rock stars covering the walls and vintage guitars leaning against his desk.
This marks his third store in Manhattan, but his first north of Second Street. Each unit has a different look. The Bowery store in the former CBGB space was inspired by the seminal East Village club where the Ramones played and Patti Smith and Blondie got started. The SoHo store concept is based on luxury, and the new flagship is modeled on a comfortable Upper East Side apartment, with elements of Varvatos’ own digs mixed in. White oak herringbone covers the floors; crown moldings line the walls; the ceiling is covered by 36 bronze convex mirrored panels, and there’s a skylight in the atrium. Store windows feature mannequins styled to look like Kiss, with full-on makeup. The group stars in the current Varvatos ad campaign. Products include tailored clothing, footwear, accessories, rock-influenced jewelry and Ernst Benz by John Varvatos limited-edition watches. Deluxe audio equipment, such as handcrafted modern record consoles from Symbol audio, round out the mix. A personal wardrobe service with tailoring is available.
“New York is such a small city, yet it’s so big at the same time,” Varvatos said. “We could possibly have stores on the Upper West Side and downtown. We’re looking at the World Trade Center.”
Also opening this year will be stores at the Houston Galleria and Beverly Hills, where the designer is finalizing a deal.
A 3,500-square-foot unit in Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre recently opened with a concept similar to the Bowery store. “We’re really not a big mall brand,” Varvatos said, “but they built a new wing. It doesn’t look like a mall store.”’
Outside the U.S., Varvatos is preparing to open his largest store yet, a three-level, 10,000-square-foot flagship on Conduit Street in London in July or August. That store also will be in the thick of fashion and luxury retailing, near Hermès, Prada, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton. “In terms of international, we’re structuring the organization to accelerate Europe,” he said. “We’re looking at Paris and Milan. London is the fashion gateway to Europe.”
The company opened a showroom in Milan and is “working on the logistics to support Europe in a stronger way and taking a stronger approach to European department stores,” the designer said.
The Continent isn’t the only place Varvatos is venturing with freestanding stores. In April, he’ll open, through a strategic partnership, a unit on Avenida Presidente Masaryk, which is known as the Madison Avenue of Mexico City for its plethora of high-end shops. Masaryk is located in the upscale Polanco district. Varvatos the same month will unveil a store in the Central Embassy on Bangkok’s main commercial artery, Ploenchit Road. Europe is run directly, but the Middle East will require a partner. In the Far East, Varvatos is “in discussions with a few people.”
Varvatos also has new store concepts up his dandified sleeve — a footwear store, for example, because that business is so big — as well as a shop dedicated to accessories.
Then there’s the perennial question of women’s wear, which Varvatos launched in 2004 and discontinued a year later. “It’s always a consideration,” he said. “Women always love the spirit of the brand. Right now, we’re focused on what we have. With women, you have to fit the body. That’s a whole other element to add to the company. It’s not going to happen in the next three years,” he said. “We have a three- to five-year plan to take the company to a significantly larger level.”
The aggressive retail expansion comes in the wake of Varvatos getting a new majority owner. In March 2012, Lion Capital signed a definitive agreement to acquire a majority stake in John Varvatos Enterprises from VF Corp. for an undisclosed sum. Varvatos, who had a 20 percent stake in the brand under VF, retained a minority share of the company.
Cristiano Quieti, who joined the company in May as president and chief executive officer, said, “The brand is in a very good moment. When I joined, I found the brand being managed in a very clean way. John is always true to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of the brand and the values of the brand.”
“I love all the stores we’re opening, but I’m as excited or more excited about working on the product,” Varvatos said. “I hope I always feel that way.”
Varvatos said his business grew by 35 percent last year and he expects a 47 percent increase in 2014. According to industry sources, John Varvatos Enterprises had sales of $250 million last year at retail.
Now, for that record label. Varvatos signed a deal with Republic Records to launch John Varvatos Records. “I was born in Detroit, which is probably the melting pot of music,” he said. “I grew up in a little home with seven people and one little bathroom. My escape was listening to music. My parents weren’t big music fans. From a very young age, I listened to music.
“I’ve been personally connected to the music world,” he added. “Kiss said, ‘We think of John in fashion, but first, we think of him as being in the music world.’ I took that as a compliment.”
The label’s first album will be released this year. Varvatos said he’s talking to a few different artists, but hasn’t signed anyone yet. Musicians won’t have to wear Varvatos’ label and he’s not necessarily looking to do merchandising. “There are all these great tentacles for the brand, but I don’t want it to distract from what we do on a daily basis.”
Varvatos wants to nurture young musical talent, something he’s been unofficially doing for some time. “People have reached out to me, artists who want to find a home,” he said. “They feel like they’re part of a machine. We want to find the next Guns n’ Roses.”