Dempsey, K.D. Lang,
and Joyce and John
Varvatos at The John
Varvatos 8th Annual
Stuart House Benefit.
Menswear designer John Varvatos recalls every detail of the day, 10 years ago, when he first walked into Stuart House, the facility created by the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center to help children who are victims of rape and sexual abuse. “It was a bad day to be there,” he remembers. “It ripped my heart out. But it also made me realize that we as a company could really do something.”
Knowing he wanted to align his recently opened West Hollywood store with a local charity, Varvatos met with Stuart House executives and made the commitment then and there: “I know you don’t know me, and you say you’ve done a lot of events that are one-offs, but I’m looking to do something long-term,” he told them. “I want to be a big part of getting this organization what it needs.”
Almost a decade later, Varvatos has remained true to his word. The ninth annual Stuart House Benefit takes place March 11, when the streets adjacent to his Melrose boutique shut down for a concert and block party. At press time, Dave Matthews was confirmed as the performer for the event, with Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow signed on as honorary cochairs; Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber, Malin Akerman, and Alan Cumming are among those on the host committee. “It’s really turned into a special event for us,” says Varvatos, who has another SoCal store at South Coast Plaza. “Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to donate millions of dollars to Stuart House, and this year I hope to raise a million dollars in one day.” Propelling that goal: Varvatos signed a presenting sponsor, Chrysler, which last year enlisted the designer (who was raised in Detroit) for its advertising campaigns. “We’re collaborating on the design of a one-of-a-kind Chrysler 300 we’ll put up for auction that day,” he says.
Given the designer’s rock-centric aesthetic, should we anticipate impossibly cool black leather interiors with a bit of studded detail? “Perhaps,” he says with a laugh. Varvatos is only too content to indulge his status as a self-avowed “music junkie,” an interest that impacts every aspect of his life, from his monthly cohosting gig on a SiriusXM music program titled “New York Nights” to his signature menswear aesthetic that combines casual elegance with a rock ’n’ roll edge. The trick, of course, is finding the balance: how to commit to each project with equal passion, while not losing sight of the day-to-day of John Varvatos, the brand. “I do have a full-time job I really love,” he says.
And yet another project proved irresistible: Fashion Star, premiering March 13 on NBC. Varvatos appears as one of the reality show’s three mentors—alongside Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie—who guide 14 aspiring designers through a competition that culminates in a prize package that includes $6 million in orders for capsule collections for Macy’s, H&M, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Varvatos was approached in early 2011 by Electus, the production company led by former NBC Universal Entertainment cochairman Ben Silverman, although the designer says his decision to do the show was far from automatic. “We talked a lot around here about whether I should do it,” he says. “On one hand I think people are going to become much more aware of our brand and the personality behind that brand, which of course is a positive. But we also had to weigh it internally and [discuss] how we were going to make it work day to day.” Ultimately producers arranged a summer shoot schedule that primarily took place on weekends in Los Angeles, allowing Varvatos to remain in his New York offices during the week. “It was a really terrific experience,” he says. “I was blown away by Jessica and Nicole, who were lovely, funny, and very intelligent and studied about the way they view their businesses.”
“People will love John on this show; he has a great presence and brings a wonderful balance to the women beside him,” says executive producer Jane Lipsitz. “He hadn’t done a lot of television before, but he has so much charisma that comes through; he just stepped into it with ease.” Production wrapped in August, and by the end of 2011 Varvatos was engrossed in a variety of new projects, including this month’s Stuart House Benefit.
As the designer flips through his Spring 2012 ad campaign, which features Green Day, his excitement is palpable. “They’re one of the biggest bands in the world, with a great spirit and attitude and also a really broad demographic,” says Varvatos. “For us it was a big honor, especially because they seemed so excited to be a part of it.”
Green Day joins a wide range of musicians who have fronted Varvatos campaigns, from The Roots in 2011 to Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, and Velvet Revolver. Why do bands love John Varvatos? Surely the affinity is rooted in the clothes, which the designer says for spring evoke “a return to elegance, but with a [casualness], a younger spirit, and different kind of edge.” Chances are, it’s also because musicians see a little something of themselves in the work he does, especially one element: his passion. “Ultimately if you’re passionate about something, you figure out a way to make it happen,” says Varvatos. “In this business, passion goes a long way.”