Designer John Varvatos spent a fair amount of time in Boston as he prepared to open his store at Copley Place, and he liked what he saw.
“I think Boston has always been considered classic Ivy League conservative,” said the designer, who also serves as a judge on the reality show “Fashion Star.” “But I think that viewpoint has changed drastically over the past 10 years, as has fashion with men in general. Watching the people on the street, there’s definitely an interest in style in Boston.”
It could be why Varvatos has joined an increasing number of menswear retailers who have recently opened stores in Boston, such as Alton Lane, Fred Perry, and J.Crew’s Ludlow Shop. The designer opened his new Boston store last month.
Varvatos was a designer at Calvin Klein when he created the briefs that made Mark Wahlberg, and his pectoral muscles, an international sensation. He also created the now ubiquitous laceless sneaker for North Andover-based Converse.
His work — loosely tailored suits paired with boots, leather trims, heavy layering, and a multitude of scarves — is primarily inspired by rock music.
“There was little else that Detroit could offer,” he says of the city where he grew up. “So I immersed myself in my records.”
He’s been able to indulge that passion by hiring rock stars to serve as models in ad campaigns. In recent years Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Alice Cooper, Chris Cornell, Dave Matthews, and Green Day have worn Varvatos. Willie Nelson is Varvatos’s latest muse.
Given that music serves as much of his inspiration, we decided to find out some of Varvatos’s favorites. In his own words, he describes his perfect playlist.
1. Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze” : “I was quite young when I heard that song. It was like an electrical storm from outer space. I had never heard anything like that. It was the first psychedelic song that I really connected with.”
2. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” : “It is a song that I always have had an affinity for. It was a protest song about the war and there weren’t a lot of black artists who did protest songs. That was kind of a hippie thing. So it was interesting to see Marvin Gaye stepping out and doing a protest album. The song is as relevant today as it was in 1971.”
3. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” : “This song really ushered in the 1990s. After bad 1980s music, all of a sudden there was this hurricane that blew through, and it was Nirvana that changed the playing field and woke people up after the hair bands and power ballads.”
4. Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”: “It’s just one of those songs that from the first time I heard it on the radio, probably in 1975, I connected with it. I heard it on the radio this weekend, too. It transcends time. It doesn’t feel like a song from the 1970s.”
5. Howlin’ Wolf, “Spoonful”: “When I was in my teens I discovered Led Zeppelin, the Who, Cream, and bands like that. The roots of that music really came from the Chicago blues, and the British were the ones who brought it into the rock arena. I was listening to this song from Cream, looking at the label on the record, and I saw that it wasn’t written by Cream, but it was written by Willie Dixon, who wrote for a lot of other blues players as well. It got me sucked into discovering blues music.”Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.