Keanan Duffty Rocks New Role With John Varvatos

The Academy of Art University School of Fashion is pleased to congratulate Keanan Duffty, former Senior Director of Fashion Merchandising, on the recently announced news that he will be joining John Varvatos Enterprises as the senior design director for Varvatos’ Star USA line.

Image Source: SF Chronicle
Image Source: SF Chronicle

In the new post, Duffty will oversee all design aspects of the Star USA line, which includes everything from leather to denim and graphic tees, and is sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman’s, Bloomingdale’s, and many other retailers, as well as an online presence. He will be reporting to Varvatos.

“We appreciated Keanan’s many contributions during his tenure at the Academy and are excited about his new position, for which his energy and talent should serve him well,” said Simon Ungless, Executive Director of the School of Fashion.

A graduate of Central Saint Martins in London and a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, he launched his own fashion line in 1999, and subsequently collaborated with David Bowie on a men’s collection inspired by the musician for Target in 2007. He has also served as design director and guest designer with Aveda, Ben Sherman, Dr. Martens, Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B., Reebok and Moods of Norway.

Keanan was kind enough to take some time out from a busy week (the New York Men’s Fashion shows were going on, in addition to the hubbub surrounding his new position), to talk about where he has been –  and where he is going:

Image Source: Photo courtesy of Keanan Duffty
Image Source: Photo courtesy of Keanan Duffty

FASHION SCHOOL DAILY: Can you talk about playing at the initial opening of the Varvatos store on the Bowery?

KEANAN DUFFTY: My band, Slinky Vagabond, features Earl Slick (Bowie), Glen Matlock (The ex Pistols) and Clem Burke (Blondie). Clem and I played at the opening of 315 Bowery in 2008 (a space that formerly housed the seminal underground music club CBGB’s.). The bill was Slash, Ronnie Spector, Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Alan Vega (Suicide), Ian Hunter, Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), Joan Jett, and Handsome Dick Manitoba (The Dictators).

Image Source: Fashion School Daily
Image Source: Fashion School Daily

FSD: What are some of the existing parts of STAR USA you most admire? How do you plan to tweak or build on what’s come before, either in design or as part of an overall marketing strategy?

KD: My good friend Dylan Jones, who is Editor of GQ UK and president of London Men’s Collections, told me that John Varvatos is perceived as a major player in the world of men’s wear. I think that is absolutely true. John has built an amazing, global brand with a very high level of aesthetic and taste. I have a great admiration for him as this is not easy to do on a large scale.

 John Varvatos Star USA is part of the big picture and since its price point is a bit lower than the collection, it is more accessible for the millennial guy who is a big part of our core customer.

The San Francisco John Varvatos store has a dedicated section on the second floor and Academy students should check it out.

JV Star USA is more denim oriented, more casual and has a different kind of “edge” than the [rest of the} collection. I plan to build and build on that along with my very talented design team and the great fabric sourcing and product development teams. There’s a lot of talent in the company, all led by John himself, who on top of being extremely talented, is also a super cool guy.

Image Source: Fit NYC
Image Source: Fit NYC

FSD: How does the celebration of the David Bowie legacy (particularly after his death) play into all this? What do you see as the major demographic? Who are the potential customers for the brand?

KD: The collection I created in collaboration with David Bowie was for Target, and therefore a different price point and it skewed much younger than JV Star USA. The production for that collection was mostly Asia. JV Star USA uses better fabrics, some sourced in Italy, so it it’s more tactile. It’s sold at Saks, Neiman’s, Bloomingdales and in some of the JV stores in the United States and around the world.

FSD: How does it feel to be back in New York after your time in San Francisco?

KD: The three and a half years that my wife Nancy and I spent in San Francisco were wonderful. We truly loved Northern California and I think I learned as much from my students at Academy as they learned from me. Simon Ungless invited me to visit Academy in 2010 and then to join the faculty in 2012 and along with Gladys Perint Palmer and Elisa Stephens they showed me a level of trust that I truly respect. Having not been in education full time before, the three of them believed in me and supported my endeavors and I know that ultimately benefited the students and the University.

For me, New York is about being in the fast flowing river of design, product and marketing. New York isn’t for everyone, but I have been here since 1993, with the exception of my time in S.F. There’s no way around it ­­­- if you want to be in the white hot front line of fashion, you have to be in New York.

I always told students that it is important to experience it and graduates Stephanie Hendrawan, Taufik Marassabessy, Suchanya Tuchinda and others have all spent time working in New York after their studies. It’s really important and brings perspective.

One way Academy students can get to New York is by entering the YMA’s Fashion Scholarshipcompetition. Winners get a great opportunity to intern with the best companies in fashion.

Image Source:
Image Source:

FSD: How do your fashion, music and aesthetic styles coincide with Varvatos?

KD: John and I have a synergy and we share a taste level in menswear that appreciates both the beauty of fabric, the elegance of fit and finding a commercial way to push the boundaries. Obviously we both love music and have broad tastes. It’s very fitting that he has turned the former CBGB space into a tribute to its former glories as the petri dish of punk rock. Some wonderfully inspiring filth grew out of 315 Bowery. Today the space has wonderful clothes, beautiful fabrics and elegant decor, but they still serve you a beer when you enter the shop! That’s rock & roll.

FSD:  While you were teaching at the Academy, were there street styles you picked up from students that you think the brand can adapt in ways similar to the punk rebellion of the past?

KD: The students at Academy were always a constant source of inspiration for me. I think it is really interesting that so many overseas students come to San Francisco and bring an international style with them. Being the Senior Director of Fashion Merchandising at Academy was for me, like going back to college myself, in terms of inspiration. Young people are always inspiring, challenging, sometimes naïve…. but that mix is unbeatable.