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Detroit's Runway to Ann Arbor


Sophie Kestelman & Rachelle Evans

December 9, 2023

Over 50,000 college students call Ann Arbor home. Young individuals from all over the world have brought their stylistic influences and incorporated them into the diverse campus culture at the University of Michigan. This edition will explore the fashion of our hometown, Ann Arbor, and shed light on the quieter voices that have contributed to the fashion Mecca, Michigan, has become.

The characteristic style of Ann Arbor was not entirely self-created. Although influence has been drawn from many technological mediums, such as Instagram and TikTok, in recent years, students have ritually sported the same pieces that never seem to go out of style. The cold climate has allowed students to express themselves through unique jackets, jeans, overcoat silhouettes, and sweaters, to name a few. 

These typical styles were not popularized by Ann Arbor students, however. Our University has yet to give credit where credit is due. Detroit is an incredibly vibrant city that has sparked insurmountable innovation in many areas, particularly the fashion industry. It has also been an inspiring influence on the Ann Arbor style. 

Detroit natives were among the first groups to understand how to dress for the cold without giving up their expression. This city relied on loud patterns, bold colors, and unique materials, such as leather, to create jackets and bottoms that could withstand the brutal winters. Alluding that individuals don’t have to sacrifice style for support. Ann Arbor was sure to take note, as many of the trends seen throughout the city rely on these design principles.

The change-makers of the Detroit fashion industry engaged in innovation that translated fashion from ideas on paper to the staples we see today. A short 45 minutes outside of Ann Arbor, Detroit fashion has also had an intangible impact on luxury fashion. 

One of the most noteworthy designers born and raised in Detroit is John Varvatos, who first appeared in fashion when opening Fitzgerald’s Men’s Store, a small store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1980. Soon after working at Ralph Lauren through the late 80s, he discovered his love for fashion and creating luxury goods. Although he is passionate about fashion, his love of music cannot go unnoticed. Dressing rock stars such as Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, members of Green Day, and even Ringo Starr throughout the years, it is clear his greatest fashion inspirations mimic his Rock and Roll heroes.

Inspired by adoration for both music and clothes, he developed his brand: John Varvatos Designer Men’s Clothing and Fashion. In a noteworthy 2013 Rolling Stone interview, Varvatos described how he pulled inspiration from different aspects of people: The Beatles’ boots, Scott Weiland’s chameleonic fashion sense, Elton John’s sunglasses, Robert Plant’s hair, and Jimi Hendrix’s military jackets. By pulling inspiration from all his favorites, Varvatos created a unique style and brand, essentially belonging to him, the rock & roll community, and everyone else who wished for something different. 

Creating something original out of personal interests was very new in a time when people were constantly urged to be like celebrities and portray themselves the way those in the media did. Varvatos knew his style was different from the norm. The brand, however, has maintained a luxurious status throughout the years by never conforming to societal expectations of fashion, regardless of the period.

After such incredible successes, including releasing his rock and roll record label and collaborating with philanthropic causes such as the Stuart House benefit, Varvatos declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy during the pandemic, suggesting a corporate restructuring of John Varvatos clothing. Claiming over 140 million dollars in debt, Varvatos sold the company to Lion Capital LLC, which still operates the business. Although he does not have financial or business control over his business, his name and legacy forever live on–after handing Lion Capital control of his company, he created On This Day (OTD), a new line of unisex clothing, accessories, shoes, jewelry, and more; inspired by JV’s calling to “reinvent himself.” 

Through his many successes and failures, it is clear Varvatos never gave up on creating a name and style for himself that no one else had invented thus far. His homage to Rock and Roll extends beyond inspiration – it is a living tribute enrooted in all of his creations. The John Varvatos brand embodies timeless artistry, where the soul of the city meets the rhythm of fashion.

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