Explore New York City

On the Road With John Varvatos

Have swagger, will travel: Iconic designer John Varvatos shows us the art of packing light—while loading up on style

John Varvatos is, like the musicians he dresses, on constant tour: When the NYC-based designer travels with equal parts elegance (his method for packing a suit is, in a word, genius) and attitude (he never leaves home without leather boots). Trust the man who outfits rock legends like Iggy Pop, Slash and Gary Clark Jr. to put some swagger in your next trip.

John Varvatos
Designer John Varvatos converted the former location of the defunct CBGB punk rock club into his signature store for New York City, all while preserving elements of the club's original decor.

How has travel influenced your work as a designer?
 Travel is the only time I’m not in meetings, and I have time to think. So, when I’m traveling, I’m watching people in the street. I’m going to flea markets, art galleries, vintage clothing stores and bookstores and looking at architecture and details on buildings and cars.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would that be?
 The island of Mustique. It’s small, private and there isn’t much to do. It’s a place I go to shut out everything except my family and friends I’m with. My wife and I eloped there, and we go pretty much once a year. It’s a magical place.

What’s your idea of the perfect travel outfit?
 A great-looking dress shirt you can take from a business meeting and later on, wear with a T-shirt and jeans. You can never go wrong with a great pair of dark jeans and boots. I’m not talking about Western boots. Our boots are Old World; they have an elegance to them and a worn-in look. If I have those core pieces, I can get through anything.

 

Jeans and shoes by John Varvatos
The laid-back but style-forward look of the Converse line designed by Varvatos

What do you always have with you on a flight?
 A light scarf—on the plane, it keeps you warm, and if it’s made of cotton or silk, you can wear it to dinner as a tie. And my iPad; I call it my life.

Any tips for packing light?
 Think about versatile items that can go from day to night, so that they can be both casually elegant and elegant. Less is more in a way. I travel weeks on end, and I used to be an overpacker, but I travel better when [my packing list] is concise. It’s a thought process. What are the things you’re going to be doing? Are you going to be out in the evenings? Are you going to business meetings? Make a list and pack what you need.

Do you have a foolproof look for business meetings?
 I can get away with more, since I’m a designer. I show up at a meeting wearing a leather jacket—and it works. If you're in the corporate world, you need a great-fitting suit no matter your size or weight. It’s not about the price. It’s about great tailoring. You automatically look more powerful when you have things that fit well. Even if you’re bigger, anything that gives you shape is better.

What’s the most effective method for packing a suit?
 I struggle with it from time to time, depending on the fabrics. If you get off a plane and have to go to a meeting without having a chance to get it pressed, travel with a light garment bag you can put overhead or hang up. If you’re bringing more than one suit,  use a larger rectangular suitcase. If you flat-fold the jacket on a table with tissue in between the folds and across the sleeves, you can pull it out of your suitcase, hang it up and wear it immediately.

What are your favorite tunes on the road?
 Everyone thinks about me as rock ’n’ roll, but I’m actually a big jazz and blues fan. Right now, I’ve been listening to the David Bowie album “The Next Day,” Boz Scaggs “Memphis,” Johnny Marr’s “Messenger” and Gary Clark Jr.’s first solo album. Music is something I really enjoy, and it’s also a big stimulus. Depending on the energy I need, if I want to be laid back, I could be listening to jazz or blues. If I’m designing or sketching, I’m usually listening to rock ’n’ roll.

 

Modeling John Varvatos' styles
"A light scarf—on the plane, it keeps you warm, and if it’s made of cotton or silk, you can wear it to dinner as a tie."

What kind of gent do you design for?
 Of course we love artists, photographers and musicians, but it’s just someone with a creative bone, who has an affinity for details, whether it’s electronics, cars or their clothes. He has an appreciation for fine things and he’s more concerned about style than fashion.

 

John Varvatos models new styles
"It’s all about the jacket," says Varvatos. "It’s a tailored piece, not outerwear. You can dress it up, dress it down and turn the collar up."

You debuted your line in 2000 and have grown your company to a global brand. What’s next?
We’ll be opening in London, Bangkok and Singapore in spring 2014. I have a car coming out with Chrysler. I’m thinking of the possibility of doing a home collection. And, we continue to do everything better, keep the bar raised high and never take our eye off what has gotten us here.

 

Images courtesy John Varvatos