New York: So what makes a man stylish?
John Varvatos: It starts with simplicity, not being overstyled or complicated. And with things that feel like they have a bit of a heritage, even though they may not, but there’s a sense about them that they have a life span and it’s not just for the moment. It’s also the way you carry yourself. We start off sometimes like we’re designing this for an artist—whether it’s a painter, photographer, musician, or whatever—someone who’s creative, because creative people are generally more comfortable with themselves, and they also tend to be more eclectic in the way they put themselves together.
Pete Yorn: I don’t have that much stuff. It’s important for me to have a couple of jackets. As long as I have two or three jackets that I like, then it’s like a new outfit. Or “I changed today!” Plus I’m always in a different city, so I can get away with wearing the same thing two days in a row and no one knows except the band.
JV: They don’t care.
PY: Some of these guys are wearing the same shirt for four days. It’s like, “Come on, guys!”
NY: John, how did you get into fashion?
JV: It was kind of through music. When I was in high school, I really wanted to look cool, so I was always trying to dress like a rock star. Then at the end of my high-school days, I started working at a cool men’s store. And I worked my way through college selling clothes.
NY: Your clothes tend to have a mix-and-match eclecticism.
JV: I don’t like things that are so uniform. I like people who mix things and come up with their own sense of style. That’s always been my thing. I don’t want to feel like I’m wearing everything so perfectly thought-out. Even though oftentimes you do, you don’t want to have it come across like you thought it out so much.
PY: That’s exactly it.
JV: You want it to look like you just threw it together, but the whole thrown-together thing looks amazing.
PY: I wasn’t sure how the shoot was going to work, but we just mixed it. I’d say, “I like that piece,” and just throw it on with what I was already wearing. And I’m always wearing old T-shirts and jeans and stuff like that. But it felt natural.
JV: Those are the ones that I like the best. The ones that feel like it just came together. Especially with what you do, you don’t want to look like a fashion model. You want to look like a rock star. Right? You want it to look like you kind of just threw it together.
PY: I’m the worst about wearing the same three stupid T-shirts for like two years.
JV: But there’s something about those T-shirts that you like. Either the fit or the wash or whatever it is. You wouldn’t wear any T-shirt, so you wear those three. Because they’re amazing T-shirts. That’s why I still have those pieces in my wardrobe—because I can’t give them up.
NY: Such as?
JV: A lot of vintage jeans and jackets and leather motorcycle jackets. Things that I wear more than anything because they just feel comfortable. I also like the attitude. I’ll throw them on with something dressy, and they kind of bring it down to a point that is more my sense of style.
NY: So, Pete, what got you interested in music in the first place?
PY: I have two older brothers, and they were always in bands, and they were always practicing in my basement. I would just sit down there and watch them play.
JV: What kind of music?
PY: Early on, it was Judas Priest covers. I was really into Iron Maiden and Judas Priest from a young age, but for some reason they never really inspired me—until I started listening to the Smiths, and all of a sudden I became very connected to the whole look of the thing and the way the music made me feel.
JV: A little different songwriting style, too.
PY: Yeah, very different. But because I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, it seemed really exotic. I wanted to dress like a little Morrissey with the hair and the glasses and the whole deal. I even would try to sing English-sounding when I was a teenager. Then I discovered other things, like R.E.M.
JV: Must be cool to tour with them.
PY: It’s amazing. We played together in Amsterdam, and it was my first R.E.M. show ever. I was talking to Michael before we went on, and I was like, “You guys are one of my favorite bands of all time. I know every song on every album.”
NY: So what kind of music have you guys been listening to lately?
JV: I’m all over the board—everything from jazz to classic rock to blues. We have music playing in the studio all day long. I’ve been listening to the new Steve Winwood album, in which he’s kind of reinvented himself for like the fifth time, and it sounds pretty fantastic.
PY: My favorite record of the last year was probably the Interpol record.
JV: That was on our most-played list.
PY: I like their sense of melody. It took me a while to get into it. I was kind of dismissing it. My friend took me to a show, and I remember thinking that they should have a smoke machine or something. And maybe three weeks later, I hear the first song on that record, “Untitled,” on TV, and I’m not even looking at it, but I hear the song, and I’m like, Wait a second! and it all just clicked right there.
NY: What inspires you?
JV: A lot of it comes from the street. Just watching people. Sometimes it comes from architecture. The simplicity of great clothes is that they’re not so in-your-face, and it’s about all the details. And when I look at great buildings, it’s the finesse of the little details that really makes them.
PY: For me, it’s kind of similar. I take inspiration from a lot of different places. Watching friends deal with things or talk about things or watching family members go through experiences. A lot of times, I’ll just put myself in their shoes and write about it. A lot of it comes from books or movies. A hint of somebody’s personality could inspire a whole number of songs. And, of course, there’s my own experiences; but I get bored with those pretty quick—someone else’s are much more interesting.
NY: Do you ever look back at other eras for ideas?
JV: I think there are certain clothes that never change. For example, every generation discovers military clothing. Every generation discovers Converse sneakers. But for me, that’s for new generations to discover. I never look back, because you get too locked into things or it becomes too costumey. The possibilities are to take the influences that you smell in the air and put them into something that feels new. It’s the same thing with music.
PY: John nailed it. There’s a difference between being completely derivative and trying to find some inspiration in something old and making it your own. Even if it’s just for the sake of making it different. Whether it’s better or worse, or whether it needed to be changed.
JV: There are influences in everybody’s life. The thing is to filter them and come out with your own vocabulary.
PY: It was really cool to talk to you. There were a lot of parallels I wasn’t expecting.
JV: Like I said, I’m a big fan.