He might be best known for inventing the boxer brief, but John Varvatos made a name for himself with cool outerwear– sumptuous takes on the T-shirt and jeans combo, snazzy leather looks, sexy power suits and more, all channeling the elusive aura of rock n’ roll and those who create it. The menswear designer started his career working for Ralph Lauren, followed by Calvin Klein (where he came up with C.K.’s signature waist-banded underwear made popular by model Mark Wahlberg). He launched his eponymous brand in 1999 opening stores around the U.S., with popular flagships in New York and Los Angeles (the Melrose Avenue store became known for hosting some hot soirees). Now, over two decades later, he’s ready to shake things up, saying goodbye to his namesake company and starting all over with a new brand called OTD (short for On This Day).
Taking over a prime drive-by spot along the Sunset Strip, at the swanky mixed-use shopping destination called “The Sunset,” OTD (in the former H&M storefront) is a bold step in a new direction for Varvatos, which expands his offerings to women for the very first time. OTD debuted its first season with the launch of otdnyc.com and the opening of a store in Soho, NYC last year, but the just-opened West Hollywood location promises to take his business to even bigger heights, with edgy and chic pieces for women and men, plus a fully unisex line of casual yet luxurious tops and bottoms, footwear, jewelry, accessories and home decor.
“The company went through a whole process of reorganization during COVID, because everything was shut down for everybody, for five months,” Varvatos recalls sitting just outside the massive new store’s breezy courtyard area. “And I just felt like for me, it was time to reinvent myself at that moment, because COVID made me think about a lot of things in my life. And I was also very driven to do women’s. Everything shut down in March of 2020, our office, every store, everybody was closed. I have a small lake house upstate, a couple hours from New York; my daughter was in virtual school. So we all went up there. We basically lived there, and I had never spent so much time there, so it was amazing. I was also working from there. And so in August, when I walked away from John Varvatos, I decided that I needed to find my next thing and I started thinking about what changed in all our lives during COVID.”
“You know, first of all, what’s important to you?” he continues, explaining the vision behind his new endeavor. “What changed in your style? Because most people were at home with sweatpants. There were things that touched our lives that will stay with us. I kind of took those into a new kind of a new point of view, a new DNA, a new ethos, and created something that had both that relaxed spirit, but also a sophistication to it. And also that you could go from evening to day. Even the day for everybody is a more relaxed day in general than it used to be. It’s about that spirit, very much wanting to be a constant in women’s clothing, and thinking so much about this unisex thing, watching the way a new culture was dressing and the way they would take different things and mix them.”
Best known for dressing musicians and actors, from Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper to Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt, Varvatos also gets regular shout-outs from Howard Stern – the famed radio host had, in fact, just touted his jeans on his SIRIUS radio show the morning we met the designer in West Hollywood for the interview. The multiple winner of “menswear designer of the year” has a very loyal following and even though the Melrose store with his name remains, OTD’s big new outlet and artistic visual approach (there’s an eye-catching mural celebrating Los Angeles inside the new store by Denver-based artist Joe Palec) is sure to make a big impact. Varavato’s gift for effortless yet rich-looking aspirational ensembles can be seen in his new designs, but it feels more inclusive this time.
His previous stores were always known for their rockstar reverence – framed photography of music’s coolest characters covers the walls– but these days he says his vision is broader. He says his new endeavor references all of pop culture in general, not just music, but also art, sports, film, television, architecture and even social media. OTD “reimagines” familiar silhouettes and for women there’s some exciting new takes. Blazers, knits, tracksuits, jackets and coats (in leather and velvet) evoke a “leisure twist” and focus “in- between season” comfort and flair. The new company’s name was inspired by Facebook and iPhone’s memory features, which bring up a photo from the past telling users what they did “On This Day” years prior.
Varvatos, who also just launched a new tequila brand with Nick Jonas, is clearly feeling revitalized and hopeful – as we all are, as we adjust to the new normal post-pandemic. For the designer, his work is all about storytelling, as he considers past and present. “We all like telling great stories. And when you have pop culture to talk about, and think about what you were inspired by, it works. When I was working on this Fall, I was thinking about the past’s Fall jackets, so I made more lightweight pieces. For L.A. clothing needs to be much lighter. “
While nostalgic nods always will be a facet of fashion, especially fashion inspired by pop culture, OTD is very much driven by the present – wearing things that make us feel good whether that be perfectly cut denim or butter soft sweaters. Varvatos is promoting “the rise of the individualized wardrobe,” and his timely take on unisex feels very now, especially as a new generation echews gender roles and expression through clothing. For those who can afford it, this luxe take on casual chic is worth it – you can see and feel the craftsmanship, refined, sustainable materials (some pieces are made from recycled bottles) and sewing techniques, and exquisite detailing. His new designs may seem trendy in some ways, with camouflage, plaid and leopard prints, and cool new takes on sweat suits, but they remain classic feeling. Nearly everything Varvatos has released with OTD feels like an investment piece that can be worn on this day, and many days to come.