Life Below 14th Street

Hi there...

So this is a story about a guy in NYC. Some parts of the story are amazing, some hilarious, others confusing, some interesting, but always honest. Like any good story it has a lot of characters. It usually involves a lot of different passions. That means this story involves you as much as it does me.

Welcome to life below 14th street.

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A true lifestyle brand…John Varvatos

So, many of you who read this blog, which I am discovering is quite a lot of you (thank you…seriously!!), have no idea what I do.  I work in the fashion world for a brand called John Varvatos, where I operate as the Concept Manager for the brand’s 315 Concept Store. You might be asking, “What does that mean?” Well, in short, it’s my job to oversee the store that in John’s eyes, “fully displays who we are as a brand”.  You may be asking again, “Okay, so, what does THAT mean?”  In order to fully understand this concept, you must know the story behind the story.   

My store space used to be a famous music venue known as CBGB.  This is where bands like The Ramones were born.  It’s absolutely iconic.  It closed in 2006; this was mostly due to a increase in rent, and also because (let’s be honest) no one is making music like The Ramones anymore.  Plus, and this is just my opinion,  the quality of music fan has gone down (yea I’m talking to you, hipster who just quietly watches bands while nodding your head).  

The music that brought so much emotion basically died off.  When this happened, John knew he needed to preserve that space and the history that was slowly deteriorating away.  We took over the location in 2008, to much resentment from the die hard CBGB crowd. What is important to remember is that we were competing for the space along side Bank of America (thank God we won).  Once we had the space, we took John’s love for fashion and music, and created an environment that meshed the two worlds into one.   

Now, this isn’t just a store with some guitars on the wall. You see, John fully draws his inspiration from the punk/rock era of music.  If you ever have seen his clothing designs, you would know; we aren’t just another brand.  We draw from the musical stylings of the past to create something truly unique.  It’s our hope to open the 315 Concept store overseas in places like London, Berlin, and Tokyo that were iconic for their music scenes and performances in the 60’s and 70’s.  

A Life Style Brand Needs A Common Denominator 

I love this about my store.  I love working in my store.  I love finding bands to play in my store (yes thats right, we still use it as a music venue) because many of you may not know I am a musician and have been for well over 10yrs. The opportunity to work with a brand that so tightly encompasses music into its brand was so appealing for me and what stole me away from my previous job at Prada.  The reason why my post is titled “A true lifestyle brand” is because of this one simple thought:  Everything about us encompasses a lifestyle (duh).  Now I know you might be thinking, “Well most brands are lifestyles”.  I would have to ask you, “really?”  Why?  What makes a brand a “lifestyle brand?”  A lifestyle has to be something specific.  American Eagle isn’t a lifestyle (yea I said it) and neither is Abercrombie or even a brand as cool as Rag and Bone (which I wear).  Why you ask?  Let me explain.  

What is “lifestyle” about any of those brands?  Being cool?  Being cool isn’t a lifestyle. Now cool people may wear their stuff (only Rag and Bone) you are not cool if you wear AE or AF (sorry…truth hurts) but that doesn’t make it a “lifestyle” brand.  Even a brand as Iconic as Prada isn’t “lifestyle” because it has nothing to focus on.  Unless you call having your own airplane a lifestyle.  

Having a lifestyle brand means at the core of you you value what a brand values and valuing “being cool” doesn’t count.  Sure if Prada’s focus was “we are about people who own planes”  Then yes, it is a lifestyle brand, because what everyone has in common was “planes.”  That, however, is not the case.  What’s missing? A lifestyle brand has to be something tangible.  This is why JV (John Varvatos) is a life style brand.  Music is tangible. People can share in it.  It can be played, recorded, written, listened to, and studied.  Thats the difference.  Thats why people connect.  

Our customers love music.  It’s why they shop with us.  It’s why they come into our stores.  They talk about the music they are working on (yes even the Venture Capitalist is a jazz guitarist) or the music they are listening to, the band they just saw perform. They talk about the first time they saw a show at CBGB (back in the 70’s or 80’s).  It’s a lifestyle and the clothes fit around this idea that “music is what matters to me”. Our store even carries high end and vintage audio equipment from a brand called McIntosh.  

A Life Style Brand needs a community 

This may seem vague but its very important.  Again “being cool” isn’t a community its very subjective. The “Hipster” thinks he’s cooler than the “corporate guy” but both where the same clothes from All Saints, both are in different worlds with nothing in common. Our community is built around something older than us.  Again music.  The “hipster” and the “wall street” guy can still connect on music.  Even if they don’t have the same taste.   That is what sets us apart.  We have done something we are passionate about and infused our love for music into the fashion world.

Community is at the core of any good brand…  

In The End

At the end of the day most people don’t identify with “fashion” when shopping somewhere.  They shop there because they are either getting a deal or the more obvious reason is that they like the way it makes them look.  This creates no loyalty whatsoever.  You ened up with a customer who can simply shop with you because your product is on sale or because in that particular season they like the shirt you made.  

I like that people come into our doors, maybe the first time cause of a sale.  Yet, when they leave, they leave knowing they’ve found something much more than just clothes. They’ve experienced something that most retail companies don’t replicate.  That is a true life style brand.  

Oh Oh and just as a bonus…watch The Roots ad campaign video for John Varvatos here.