John Varvatos was on hand last night to fete the launch of his men's shop-in-shop at Bloomingdale's Century City, but when we got a chance to sit down face-to-face with the designer we steered the conversation towards his role of mentor on NBC's Fashion Star. Given the show's mild reception, debacle with West Coast shoppers, and recent shake-up in hosting duties, we were curious to learn about the new crop of designers and how the program will be re-tooled for season two.
Before a performance by the band Alberta Cross (on a full-scale stage erected in the middle of the department store, which was impressive), a cocktail party and a fragrance signing, Varvatos took a moment to answer all our questions and spoke at length about the show, a book he's writing and his thoughts on the state of education in this country. The evening also had a charitable angle: Proceeds from the night's sales will be donated to 826LA, a non-profit organization that offers writing workshops and tutoring for students from elementary to high school.
Now that you have started filming, what can we expect to see in this season of Fashion Star?
"We're like 10, 12 days into it and we've shot three episodes so far. The show has changed a bit to keep it interesting. The level of designers has been quite elevated. There are a number of designers that sell their stuff at Bloomingdale's and Barneys. It's really focusing a lot more on the designers, and the designers working with the mentors and not as much of what's going on on the stage, except for the runway part of it. I think it's a bit more intriguing, from what we've seen in the first three episodes. It's a lot more fun because we're not focusing so much on what they did right or wrong but instead on trying to guide them through the design process."
Would you ever consider taking on a designer for John Varvatos yourself?
"Last season there were a couple of people that I really thought could work on our team. But everybody has to find their own way to see if they want to do their own collection somewhere, which is not easy. There are already a couple of people in this year's [season] that I have my eye on.
Last year I figured out early on who I thought would make it to the end and I wasn't far off. This season, going into the third episode I'm not sure. Someone who I didn't think was going to make it in the first episode blew my mind in the second. I said, 'These guys are the ones that can really go up and downstairs.' I see more of that Cinderella story, the ones who all of a sudden are pulling up alongside the other designers."
When you're in LA, where do you like to spend your time?
"When I'm here I stay at the Sunset Marquis. When I'm back in the garden area there I feel like I'm on vacation even though I'm working. I have a lot of friends in LA, probably more friends in LA than I have in New York. I love that you can go to Malibu and it's got a completely different vibe. I love Santa Monica, my friends live in Hollywood but not in a 'scene' area, and our store is in West Hollywood. There are so many hidden communities and a lot of quaint areas."
Will there be more Bloomingdale's shop-in-shops coming to LA?
"I don't know the timing, but we are looking at rolling out a couple more, one at the Beverly Center and at The Grove."
The charity, 826LA, focuses on writing and education. Are you a writer?
"I'm actually just finishing a book that's going to be coming out at the end of next year that's about rock and roll and fashion. I don't consider myself a great writer, but writing the book, I wish I would have taken more writing classes and I wish that in schools they would put more emphasis on it. Judd Apatow is a big supporter and one of the founding members of 826LA and he got us interested in it.
I was drawn to it for a couple of reasons: one, there are other things to do after school—not every kid wants to do sports after school—and two, they help kids get their homework done. They help kids get interested in writing and literature. The arts have kind of become a little less important as budgets have been cut. I think so much now about how important it is to support great teachers. I have a degree in education, too. It's such an important part of everybody's life to have great teachers around them, but we don't pay them well, we don't support them well."
When can we expect to see the book?
"Holiday 2013. I've been working on it for a few years, it's kind of a labor of love. It's a book that's inspired me, and there is a lot of rock photography in it as well. It tells the story of the inspiration and how music and fashion have very much been a big part of pop culture."
· Fashion Star [NBC]
· John Varvatos [Official Site]