Fashion designer, and Detroit native, John Varvatos is opening his first Midwest store, right in the heart of the Detroit. His unique take on menswear builds a bridge between rock & roll functionality and old world craftsmanship. This is his 21st retail space, and marks the beginning of a revamped retail element in Detroit.
Many of us cannot remember it, but there was a time when people came from all around to shop in downtown Detroit.
His latest venture occupies the first floor of the historic Wright-Kay Building, built in 1891, making it one of Detroit’s oldest structures. It is an epic brownstone building, with a commanding presence right on Woodward. If you have been following the revival of downtown restaurants, you have probably heard the name Wright & Company. The unique, craft restaurant, sits right above Varvatos’s 4,600 square feet.
Varvatos grew up here, and the gritty pragmatism of his clothes reflects that. Fashion and rock and roll are in large part synonymous. Every artist at one point adopts a unique style to separate themselves from the rest.
“I have a great reverence for the craft of old world tailoring, but a big part of what I love designing is functional, timeless clothing that is created to be lived in,” Varvatos said. “This is a dream come true. Going back to my roots, where all my influences started, brings back so many great memories.”
As we wandered around his new space, that notion was apparent in all the clothing throughout the store. The thing that stands out most, besides the clothes, is the affinity for music that the store possesses. The walls are covered in iconic and unpublished works of photographic genius, and the sound pumping throughout the store makes you feel like you are in a Led Zepplin recording session, not walking around a clothing store.
Music is so important in fact, that a stage has been placed in the store, with a serious set-up of Marshall Half Stacks, where live acts will play, free of charge.
Varvatos partnered with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services to make this dream a reality. They were both on deck Thursday to welcome everyone to the new spot.
“The arrival of John Varvatos in Detroit signals the start of a new era of exciting downtown retail not experienced in the lifetime of the vast majority of people who live in and around the city,” Gilbert mentioned. “Varvatos has unwavering passion for his hometown but his decision to open his first Midwest location in Detroit is also a significant business endorsement. One that illustrates the confidence that nationally-acclaimed specialty retailers have in the city’s future.”
The Detroit born fashion designer got his start with Ralph Lauren in 1984, but he separated himself in the 1990’s with Calvin Klein. He was man who came up a simple, yet revolutionary concept, the boxer brief. There is a very famous photograph of Mark Wahlberg wearing a pair of Calvin Klein boxer briefs, if you need to jog your memory.
Varvatos continued to grow from there. He launched his own collection in 2000, and has stacked up numerous awards since. In 2007, GQ Magazine named Varvatos “Designer of the Year” in its annual “Men of the Year” issue. Most recently, in 2013, he was named as Menswear Designer of the Year at the 10th Annual Style Awards during NY Fashion Week.
The designer told the crowd he first searched the downtown area during last year’s Polar Vortex, where at times the temperature was 30 degrees below zero. The arctic blast didn’t deter Varvatos and the energy of the city sold him.
“It was a turn on. Meeting people who moved back to city. It was a very exciting moment,” Varvatos said
There is no doubt that this space will be another catalyst in Detroit’s resurgence.
“It is an unbelievably exciting day to walk up to a store on Woodward Avenue and see my name on it,” Varvatos, 60, said. “I remember going to Hudson’s, Hughes & Hatcher and the music stores. I’m so honored to be part of Detroit at this time.”
The Detroit location will offer all three of John Varvatos brands, with a focus on the Spring 15 sportswear line. The line features lightweight outerwear, premium knits and moto style jackets. Besides clothes items, there is an eclectic assortment of leather goods, unique footwear, and travel items. Everything about the new space screams Detroit Rock City.
The clothes are urban, but designed for dressier occasions. Like Detroit itself, the clothes have subtle imperfections that speak to a unique character, not a flaw.
Over the past few years there has been a wave of new businesses, retailers, and restaurants. Each time a bigger name lands in Detroit, its speaks to the confidence that Detroit’s brand is building.
Many cities shrug off the opening of a new retail space, as something that barely registers on the scales, but here, there is palpable excitement around new stores. For a long time Detroit was written off, but never out of the fight. These openings are a reminder that we are entering a new, exciting chapter in Detroit history.
John Varvatos on social media.