NEW YORK — After seven years of showing his men’s collection in Milan, John Varvatos is coming back home.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The designer has revealed that he will show his spring 2016 collection in July at the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men’s, the new stand-alone showcase for American men’s fashion created by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Varvatos will close the event with a runway show on July 16. The designer’s last New York fashion show was in spring 2008.
“From the time I started my brand in 2000, the timing between fashion week and the men’s wear calendar was never truly aligned,” Varvatos said. “After eight years of showing in New York, I moved my show to Milan. We’ve shown there for the past seven years and it’s been a wonderful experience and a real boost for our international growth.”
But the idea of supporting the new men’s fashion week kept nagging at him, and a lightbulb finally went off in his head when he opened a flagship in his hometown of Detroit a few weeks ago. “We’re the only retailer in downtown Detroit — literally, we’re the only ones there,” he said. “But like we did on the Bowery [when we opened our store in the former CBGB location in 2008], we planted the flag.”
He felt the same way about the fashion week initiative and decided to take the plunge. “I’m an American designer, we’re an American brand and New York City is my home, so we thought it was the right time,” he said.
Like the other men’s designers who have signed on, Varvatos said showing men’s at the same time as women’s in September makes no sense. “It’s three months too late,” he said. “I would have shown June 18 in Milan, but in New York, I’d have had to show on Sept. 10 or 12. We’re into the next season by that time and every retailer and editor has already seen the collection.”
So while he was initially reluctant to cancel his plans for Milan since the city has allowed him to gain global attention, eventually his patriotism won out.
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, said, “John Varvatos is quintessentially American, a leading men’s wear brand, a global success, and the CFDA is proud to welcome John back home. Having him show during New York Fashion Week: Men’s solidifies our efforts and emphasizes the importance of New York City as an international influence on the business of men’s wear.”
He said Varvatos’ “homecoming really throws weight behind what we’re doing. But he’s been supportive all along.”
Kolb said he’s been talking to the designer about returning to New York for many years. “We had numerous conversations about men’s wear and its overall importance to the American fashion industry,” he said. “When you look at the landscape of American men’s wear, there are not many designers who are singular in their approach and who are a global success. So when the conversation started about creating a stand-alone men’s week, there was incredible support from the beginning. John will be the tentpost of the week.”
Varvatos said he’s always been a “champion” of the idea of a separate men’s fashion week, but until recently, there wasn’t enough interest to “give it enough girth,” he said. Creating something this expansive is “not an easy task — you really need a core to make it work.”
Designers who have committed to participate — although not all with runway shows — include Calvin Klein Collection, Michael Kors, Rag & Bone, Public School, Billy Reid, Todd Snyder, Michael Bastian, Ovadia & Sons, Robert Geller, Duckie Brown, Patrik Ervell, Timo Weiland and Kent & Curwen. Tommy Hilfiger, an early backer of the initiative, will take part in some form, as will Thom Browne. Ralph Lauren has remained mum on the issue.
Calvin Klein and Thom Browne will continue to show in Milan and Paris, respectively, but Kolb stressed that their participation in New York “will not be a phone-in. They’ll be doing something unique that will add to the week.”
Kolb said the shows will begin with an event on July 13 and run through the 16th, with at least 25 shows at Skylight Clarkson Sq in SoHo. Amazon, DreamWorks and Shinola have signed on to sponsor the shows and Kolb said at least two additional sponsors have committed to participate, although he’s withholding the names until the final contracts are signed. “We’re fully funded,” he stressed. One of these is expected to be Cadillac, according to sources.
Kolb added that at this point, there are more designers who want to participate than the venue has space to accommodate. “We’re filling it up now with the right people,” he said.
The support from the men’s wear community has been encouraging, Kolb said. “When you build something, you don’t know who the tenants will be, but you know they’re going to like the neighborhood,” he said.
Varvatos said his decision to return to New York is not designed to create buzz or generate publicity. “I almost feel embarrassed about making a big deal about it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do and we’re only promoting it to get other strong American designers on the train. When London Fashion Week started, it attracted others and men’s fashion week can be a showplace for American designers. There really hasn’t been the right venue before.”
Men’s fashion week is hoping to replicate the success of London Collections: Men, which started in 2012.
Asked if he would also move his fall show from Milan in January to New York in February, Varvatos said the decision hasn’t been made. “More than likely yes, but I can’t say long-term,” he said. “We have to create something that will make people take notice.”
Varvatos, whose New York shows were always celebrity-filled spectacles, plans to do his part to make that happen by doing “something special here.” He will show at Skylight Clarkson Sq, so will be limited by the size of that space, “but we still want to do a great show and present the collection properly. There’s no reason to come back if it’s not impactful.”
Kolb said the CFDA didn’t provide any special financial incentives to get Varvatos to move back to New York. “Nothing different than anyone else,” he said.
Varvatos knows that by leaving Europe, there are some global retailers who will miss the show, “but it’s the same thing when we show in Europe, so it’s a wash,” he said.
Ditto for editors.
CFDA has committed to sponsoring the trips of around 20 key editors from Europe to attend the inaugural event, and it also hopes to attract key regional and national journalists who have not attended shows in Europe in the past.
“Men’s wear is the hot ticket in retail today,” Varvatos said. “There’s a lot of interest in the young designers and we now have the venue — the runway so to speak — for them to show what they do.” Although he expects the shows to attract a lot of attention, he said: “It’s less about the hoopla — in the end, the real success is what happens at retail.”