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Fashion Star: Designer Branding with John Varvatos

6 years ago by Reg Seeton

Acclaimed menswear designer John Varvatos has found a new sense of reality style on NBC’s Fashion Star as a mentor alongside Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie.

Although John Varvatos carved out his own unique career in the fashion world as a top designer at Ralph Lauren, the former head of menswear at Calvin Klein, the man responsible for the cK brand, and the creator of the Polo Jeans Company, Varvatos is now paying his experience forward on Fashion Star. Each week on Fashion Star, John Varvatos helps young designers adapt their talents and styles to what big buyers are looking for in relation to trends and what sells in the marketplace. Beyond Fashion Star, one thing is for sure: John Varvatos knows how to sell.

Now that designers have more access to the industry than ever before, through shows like Fashion Star and the Internet, more up and comers are becoming their own brands. Although buyers are still the gatekeepers in the fashion world, more young designers are gaining power and visibility. And in an age when everyone’s becoming a brand, some could say that the fashion industry may be more watered down than ever before. On the other side of the style coin, others are much more optimistic about the changes in the fashion world.

So, how does John Varvatos see the increased competition among young designers on a show like Fashion Star? For Varvatos, via a chat with The Deadbolt, change and branding has taken the fashion world to new heights.

“I love it. I’m not the youngest designer on the street today because of when I started in the industry. I think it raises the bar for everybody. I love the competition. I love that it’s gotten much broader.”

With the designs on Fashion Star available the next day in such huge brands as Macy’s and H&M, it opens up a new world of possibilities for young designers looking for wider visibility. Through Fashion Star, relatively unknown designers can reach a much wider audience and establish their brand on a national level. Gone are the days when only a few elite designers reigned over the fashion world.

In fact, even the eliminated designers on Fashion Star have already carved out their own piece of the industry pie. What they do beyond Fashion Star will be up to them.

In relation to where he started in the early 80s, how does John Varvatos feel about how the fashion world has changed?

“Someone was doing an interview with me the other day and they were talking about what it was like for me in Ralph Lauren in 1985 versus today. What was the marketplace? What was the consumer? It’s just drastically changed. Just the speed of technology has changed. In the last then years since I started my brand, it just drastically changed with the amount of denim brands in America. There were 80 denim brands that were sold in America in 2000 and today there are over 800 brands based in America, not just sold here but based here.”

Although some may look at a reality show like Fashion Star as simply another form of entertainment, primetime television is playing a part in changing the fashion industry as we’ve known it to be over the past decade. Who ever thought that one day you’d be able to purchase clothing from an unknown designer at Macy’s the day after seeing it on TV? Through Fashion Star, its mentors and buyers, fans have a new level of instant trust through those associated with the show.

At the same time, Fashion Star makes the experience personal for viewers at home. If you follow the designers and their weekly struggles, empathy can build brand recognition and brand awareness. It’s a brilliant concept from a business standpoint.

So, now that we’re living in an age where everyone’s becoming a brand, how does John Varvatos see the future of fashion if more designers are becoming gatekeepers through powerful branding?

“I think the competition is great and the consumer has a lot of choices. They’re going to be more particular because they have more choices and the buyers are going to be more particular because they have choices. They see a lot of things out there.

As a designer, they need to have their bar raised high every week. every day, and every minute. You need to be putting more into your product to give the customer more value. You have to have your own personality, because if you’re just another ‘me too,’ you’ll only win if you have the lowest price. That’s a tough one to win for young people.”

So far this season on Fashion Star, the designers have already gotten a lesson in what it takes to stand out in a crowded, competitive world.

For former Fashion Star contestant Oscar Fierro, it was about how to stand out in a crowded clubwear market. For last week’s eliminated designer, Lizzie Parker, it was about making her own identity more commercially appealing.

Given all of the changes in the fashion world and reality television, what does John Varvatos think about where things stand now in relation to future opportunities for designers?

“I think it’s the most exciting time. I think a lot of other designers would tell you the same thing. It’s a stressful time at the moment but it’s also the most exciting time in fashion right now. The competition is so great out there. It’s like sports when there was only like 6 or 8 teams in a league. Now there are 12 teams in the league. When there’s more competition out there, it makes it more challenging. If you’re really competitive and good at what you do, you can win big.”

What do you think?

Reg Seeton

Reg Seeton created The Deadbolt in 2005 after working for the pioneering movie news website, Coming Attractions. Reg has over 15 years experience as a top online entertainment journalist and interviewer, has worked with several award winning actors, musicians and writers, and has managed entertainment networks in New York and Los Angeles. And he's done it all with one eye!