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Wild Style: Inside John Varvatos’ ‘Rock in Fashion’ Book

Read the designer’s thoughts on the looks of artists ranging from Robert Plant to Axl Rose

Courtesy John Varvatos

"Music and fashion have had a kind of incestuous relationship since the Fifties," clothing designer John Varvatos says about the impetus behind his first book, Rock in Fashion, which is out now. "It started with people like Elvis Presley and pop icons like James Dean. Then it exploded in the MTV days. Now, with the internet, it's instantaneous."

Rock in Fashion, which Varvatos co-wrote with author Holly George-Warren, explores the relationship between music and fashion through photographs of musicians ranging from the Beatles to My Morning Jacket, some of which were previously unpublished. It breaks down different elements of artists' looks—hair, glasses, hats, scarves, shoes, tailoring, jeans, jackets and more—and it explains how the looks of musicians from one era influenced rockers decades later.

Fittingly, the inspiration for the book came from Varvatos' own style notebooks that date back to designs he had before he launched his own brand in 2000, following stints working at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Rather than assemble a book of rock-star photos, he put together everything from his thoughts on the history of music and fashion to his philosophies on runway shows and seasonal collections. "It contains the things that were influential to me," he explains, "whether they were culturally or literally from a design inspiration."

He says the most pivotal period in fashion for him was the early Seventies, his formative years. He cites the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix as his wellspring. "After the Sixties, it moved into an era of interesting fashion, where bands like Led Zeppelin were wearing tailored suits," he explains. "It was a time of dressing up again, but not in a father's kind of way. It was an imperfectly perfect way of dressing, which is really what my brand's all about."

To find out how music and fashion build off each other from Varvatos' perspective, Rolling Stone sat down with the designer to discuss why he picked some of the photos in Rock in Fashion. Click through the photos to find out how artists like Lou Reed and Scott Weiland impacted style in a big way.

By KORY GROW

 

Courtesy John Varvatos

Thank You, Jimi, For the Influence

"This is from a series of photos Gered Mankowitz did with Jimi in 1967 at Mason's Yard in London. That series may be the most important pictures to me. I have a big, limited-edition print of that photo behind my desk. I look at it every day when I come in. There was nobody that looked like that when Jimi came on the scene, and there are not very many people who could pull that look off. He's wearing real military pieces in those photos. If you were to turn the pages in the book, you'd see Adam Ant wearing something almost identical. And we did an ad with Green Day and, in it, Billie Joe Armstrong was wearing an all-grey jacket done in linen, influenced by the one Jimi is wearing. That's my way of throwing my hat in there saying, 'Thank you, Jimi, for the influence.'"

Courtesy John Varvatos

Glamorous, Even When She Wore Almost Nothing

"Stylistically, Debbie Harry was and continues to be one of the most interesting and intriguing women in music. For me, she always was a standout. She was glamorous, even when she wore almost nothing or was stripped down or torn up or whatever; somehow she pulled it off looking sexy. Also, she and Patti Smith were both able to wear menswear and look interesting in it as well."

Courtesy John Varvatos

Wearing the Message

"We make T-shirts that feature some of the iconic artists we work with. What's interesting is, when they see how well the shirts are done, they want a bunch of them. We've done them with Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and Guns N' Roses. They want to wear their own T-shirts. So that's part of why I have the picture of Suzi Quatro wearing Suzi Quatro. But at the same time, Axl is wearing Keith Richards and Johnny Thunders is wearing Marilyn Monroe. It's what I call, 'wearing the message.' There's just something about how important T-shirts have become in terms of spreading a message in both music and fashion."

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