John Varvatos JV101 from De Rigo Rem
photographed in a special Varvatos studio shoot

John Varvatos goes way back with 20/20. That’s not to say we go all the way back to making noise about the brand inception 20 years ago in 2000, but support here to his efforts in the optical arena certainly date to the debut of his eyewear and sunwear collections.

That initial 2006 release was the first time Varvatos graced a 20/20 cover. Just a few years later in 2013, he honored this publication with his second 20/20 cover appearance, sharing an eye-witness day with this reporter and photographer Stephen Mark Sullivan, working on a variety of projects including a design conference on his upcoming eyewear collection, choosing fabric and leather for a new jacket creation, coordinating the timing and structure of an upcoming spring fashion show and choosing photos for his Rock in Fashion book. (To my seasoned rocker eyes, one of the best visual testimonies on the sublime crash of popular culture and music makers.)

Throughout these past 15 years, 20/20 has featured Varvatos eyewear in countless of editorially driven instances. We’ve been guests at stellar rock concert moments at his legendary Bowery club/store, witnessing a myriad of music from Cheap Trick to Vintage Trouble. Those instances have been extra special since it is that exact life-defining soundtrack at the very essence of the Varvatos brand.

Born and bred in Detroit, John’s formative years were fueled by the brash metallic punch of hard rock. Steel-tempered by the likes of Iggy and The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, Trapeze, The Who and countless other sonic legends, Varvatos has never been shy about wearing his great taste in music on his zippered leather sleeve.

And that attitude of rock and “role” staunchly demands top priority in every pair of eyewear and sunglasses we’ve spied throughout these years as brand fans. All of which points to the right here and now as Varvatos sets a record for 20/20 cover appearances, this being his third as all eyes focus on his new JV Artisan Collection. As detailed in our most recent luxury eyewear issue, Varvatos personally gave 20/20 an exclusive look at the new styles, inviting us to a photo shoot specific to the debut.

John Varvatos art directing his artisan/guitar photo shoot

He tried on styles. We tried on styles. He pointed to specific details from a slew of legendary rock guitars (some from his personal collection) all burnished with the same vibe inbred to the new collection: Exotic woods glowing with a depth of caress and care; cabled guitar strings aped in the details of the eyewear’s bridgework; tuning knobs akin to screw functions on the specs’ temples; creamed zyl influenced by the fret neck inlays; twin trim bindings; chrome pickup finishes duplicated via metallic details on the frames.

This isn’t just eyewear. It’s cherished equipment for the fanatic. These are visionary impacts of style and substance worth playing on one’s face and before one’s eyes and collecting as one would cherish a vintage Gibson Les Paul or Firebird.

“When we first started planning this exclusive collection,” notes Varvatos at the photo shoot, “I was looking at images of luxury eyewear online. But then I realized it was all about the artisan and craftsmanship as a focus for the frames in their overall look and in their details, and that’s when I began to deeply study the details on the guitars and cases and amps I wanted as a teenager.” That took him to an appreciation for his motor city roots and the cars he loved then as now. “When I showed reference material to Tatiana (De Rigo Rem senior creative director Tatiana De Arruda Penteado) she brought a fresh perspective to these influences.” New to this Varvatos ethos of venerating the iconic earmarks of music equipment, Penteado was able to capture the essence of the design of the guitars into a pure reflection suited for true eyewear componentry.

“I could see the guitar but she took it directly into that next step of eyewear that could work on someone’s face and as eyewear that someone would want to collect and keep for life. That aspect is equally rock ’n’ roll.” Varvatos was more than pleased. He sees this collection as eventually impacting everything he tries in future JV eyewear. “I really want these glasses.” He puts on style JV 104, and he keeps it on. We’re positive it will be the sunglass he wears for the cover shoot. It is.

And here’s my most personal aside on John Varvatos as a lifestyle, a brand, an eyewear brand and a man. At the very start of launching his brand, Varvatos won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for New Talent. Back in my daze at WWD and W, Perry Ellis was one of my best friends. We went to concerts together. I introduced him to one of his main muses, Patti Smith. And I will forever remember a day at his Fire Island beach home when I prompted Perry to take on a new challenge… menswear. He noted most of his understanding of that side of the biz was based on the rock ’n’ roll heroes of his youth. I thought that would be a great starting point. I’m positive he built on that part of his personal history in one of his most successful ventures.

Varvatos has that same power to the strum of his style chord. Everything he designs sings that song. This new Artisan Collection soars directly to that muse and that music. John Varvatos rocks, and he has 2020 (and beyond) covered.  

–James J. Spina