John Varvatos: "I Feel Like Dubai Is One Of The Centres Of The Universe Today"
Five years ago, American designer John Varvatos introduced his menswear brand to Europe. But as he did, he noticed something unusual. From the confines of his London store came an uptick in sales from a market that was quite unintended. It was something that he felt was worth more of his time and further investigation.
“We built a very strong Middle Eastern clientele when we opened in London and it developed into a big percentage of our business,” explains Varvatos. “We felt confident that there was a customer base there for us.” As a result, his first eponymous store in the region opened last December, and it’s something that, yes, he’s rather enthused about.
“I feel like Dubai is one of the centres of the universe today,” says Varvatos. “Like New York, London and Bangkok. It’s amazing.”
It’s easy to forget that this is still a reasonably young brand. Launched in 2000 in New York, JV is largely still about the iconic city it calls home: tough, streetwise, overflowing with rebellion and awash with leather. But that embodiment is an ideal fit for the city where Varvatos now finds his new namesake store.
“Dubai is like New York in the way that most people that live here aren’t from here, so there’s an influx of a lot of people from all around the world. It’s a mix of cultures, which I find exciting. It’s a very young city with a very youthful culture. I think that’s also great for our brand exposure, too,” says Varvatos.
The city where the designer started his own label may be much older, and so are many of the other locations the company first branched out to. But whether in an iconic city or emerging territory, alignment matters. And although a youthful customer base is vital to the future of the brand, equally crucial to Varvatos is that tricky, often elusive element known as consistency – and that’s regardless of where you find one of his stores.
“I think any great brand creates its own identity and it’s the one thing from the beginning that I believe we’ve stayed true to. We’ve evolved, but we’ve stuck to our DNA. I think in the end most guys are evolutionary, not revolutionary, in terms of their style, and that’s our approach, too. We want to have fun and create newness, but we want it to stay within the same handwriting, so that once you’ve bought into our brand, you feel that it’s now your place to go.”
Probing further into this DNA, it becomes clear how the core message of John Varvatos will translate to consumers in the Middle East. “Number one, I use the word ‘masculine,’” he explains pointedly. “I think it’s a men-only masculine brand that can take you from day-to-night and from business-to-pleasure... but there’s an edge sprinkled throughout.”
Given the current global discussion around masculinity, Varvatos is quick to clarify how he defines being a man, following a year of #MeToo and #TimesUp that is still, rightfully, occupying the cultural discourse.
“We’re not macho,” Varvatos explains. “There’s a softness to what we do as well. We embrace everything out there. When I say masculine, I think leathers, denim, coats, layering. All of those things. I think that in the end, the masculine part comes in for me when guys want to create their own sensibility – and in their own style.”
And for a brand that’s known to celebrate its rebellious spirit, this only seems natural. “Every one of those rock artists from the early periods, they also wore women’s blouses and everything else. So to me it’s the Yin and the Yang part of it. It’s the mix and match of it. It’s the softness with the toughness, but it’s never macho. It’s always soft.”