HuffPost Style Sessions--a series in which we have interesting conversations with icons of the style world--took its show on the road last month when executive editor Anya Strzemien (that's me!) interviewed designers Billy Reid and John Varvatos during the SXSW Festival. The Austin event was organized as part of The Neighborhood, a style-centric showcase held in downtown Austin's 2nd Street District.
Over the course of a one-hour conversation, Varvatos and I covered subjects like the '90s, the advice Ralph Lauren gave him when he quit and the "impulsiveness" (others might call it courage) that led to the birth of his own line. Below, some of his most quotable moments, which you can also watch above (skip to 1:40 to get to the questions and answers). Special thanks to Jonathan Jackson from One Point Pictures for filming and editing the above video.
On working at iconic '90s brands like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein in the '90s:
"I look at the '90s as a blur in terms of fashion. In menswear it was flannel shirts with bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden. There wasn't a lot of great women's fashion that came out of that period that you really can say has been enduring. It wasn't one of my high marks. [But] it was better than the '80s, for sure."
On the influence of social media on fashion:
"As we went into 2000 [when the first Varvatos collection was shown], that was when the internet was starting to come into its own. Fashion is instantaneous now. We do a runway show twice a year in Milan and before I even get back to my studio to take a look at what I've done on film or video or digital, it's already all over the internet. There are no oceans anymore separating the world."
On the "a-ha moment" that led him to leave his job as head of menswear at Ralph Lauren, and start John Varvatos in 1999:
"Impulsiveness led to it. I was at Barneys in New York walking the men's and women's floors, [and] 1999 was a time when Prada was really hot and everything was black and nylon and rubber...I thought, 'it's time to do something different,' and it was just one of those flipping of the switches and I just said 'I'm gonna do it now.' [It was] four days before I told Ralph Lauren and one day before I started working on putting the finances together to do it."
On the courageousness of doing that:
"At the time, I didn't look at it as being brave, I looked at it as 'if it doesn't work, I can always go back to doing what I'm doing.' But I never felt like it wouldn't work. I had to go into it thinking it was going to work. I wasn't 25 years old and I had a family and all that came with that."
On what the "quitting" conversation with Ralph Lauren was like:
"It was kind of like the book The Neverending Story It started and [Ralph Lauren] wouln't accept the conversation. It went on for two motnhs and I finally had to say 'This is absolutely what I'm doing.'...he even talked about backing me, but I kind of felt like it would be staying in your dad's business and he'd be coming in saying 'What are you doing?' But the final thing he left me with was 'You should do it if you really feel like you truly have something new to say...[otherwise] you shouldn't do it.'...Now when I see him he gives me the thumbs up and says 'You really are doing it.'"