Q&A With John Varvatos

The designer cranks up the volume with a new footwear line and global expansion.

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FN: How has the economy changed the way you operate?
JV: When you look at new opportunities, new launches, you have to look at them with all the risk involved. A year ago, risk wasn’t as big an issue. We were growing at 35 percent a year and now we’re saying, “Is it risky?” We’re still doing new things for the business, but that’s probably the biggest difference. We were opening four or five stores a year, and this year, we only have one store on the plate. There are a lot of unknowns in the marketplace right now.

FN: How much is the company growing today?
JV: Globally, we grew our business in Europe by 23 percent [for fall bookings]. Even in the U.S., we had an increase of 6 percent. When you think that most people were down from last year, we’re still growing. Our only question with everything that happens in the market is credit with people and people not paying their bills. But most of it we’re working our way through. And there are people who have been super-supportive of us from day one who have credit issues. Even if we’ve been told not to ship to them, we are going to do it. And those are some of the big names out there.

FN: Are there plans to bow another store like the Bowery?
JV: We have one in the works right now. We can’t say where it is, but there will be another one opening this year. Everything about [the Bowery store] is my baby, and it’s very credible — between the concerts we do there and the way the store is merchandised and the whole history that’s there — so as we take it to other places, we want to make sure the credibility factor [is there]. We have to do something really unique when we go to Los Angeles or Austin.

FN: Any plans to set up an e-commerce site soon?
JV: I don’t have a timetable exactly, but it could be as early as this fall. But if it doesn’t happen for fall, it will happen for spring ’10. We actually think footwear could be one of the biggest opportunities because there are a lot of guys who live in Denver or Portland, Ore., or Dallas who don’t have the exposure to the breadth of shoes we carry.

FN: When you aren’t busy at work, what do you like to do?
JV: I have a eight-and-a-half-month-old daughter, and I’m loving every minute of it. I have two grown children in their early 20s. When the prospect of having another baby was on the table, I didn’t really embrace it all that well, but since we’ve had the baby, it’s the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me. I look forward to every moment with her and my wife. And I have a little house upstate. That’s my other passion. It’s away from things; it’s not the Hamptons. I love hanging with my friends and listening to rock ’n’ roll.


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