John Varvatos Takes Over CBGB

by AMANDA MELILLO · April 7, 2008

john varvatos [Photo via Racked]

This past weekend, the John Varvatos store opened its doors in the Bowery spot that was once the legendary CBGB, and hosted musical names such as The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, and many more. Many waited to find out what Varvatos, a designer who has used Alice Cooper, Velvet Revolver and Cheap Trick in ad campaigns and pens a music column for British GQ, would do with the space—and it appears that he has attempted to recapture at least the suggestion of what CBGB used to be. He told the Post, "I wanted to combine music, fashion, memorabilia and really make it like a cultural space," which makes it sound like designer store meets Hard Rock Café with a dash of authenticity. And memorabilia he has got, with a faux concert stage complete with guitars, amps and drums to display a shoe collection, vintage posters adorning the walls, and vinyl records for browsing.

But maybe this museum-like collector's feel signals a post-mortem for city culture. Everyone was in an uproar when Madonna said, "[New York] is not the exciting place it used to be. It still has great energy; I still put my finger in the socket. But it doesn't feel alive, cracking with that synergy between the art world and music world and fashion world that was happening in the 80s." Yet isn't there an element of truth to that statement? The New York Times ran a style article about the creative class shuttling between San Francisco and Brooklyn—because Brooklyn is the borough where the artists move because gentrification has pushed them out of Manhattan. Ironically, most people theorize that it is these populations of artists, writers, musicians, designers, etc, that spark urban renewal and bring the upper echelons that eventually push them out. And with rising rents and soaring prices, many New York institutions are forced to shutter their windows and hang farewell signs on their doors—look no further than the closing of the Cheyenne Diner this week after 68 years. Further still, no matter how much the neighborhood artist communities fight for the preservation of their surroundings, they can't seem to be able to halt skyscrapers or buildings like Trump Soho from getting constructed.

So while John Varvatos tried to do the right thing by CBGB, perhaps the memorializing of underground rock culture that lost its famous venue is a depressing reminder of what is disappearing in Manhattan. Until the city finds some surefire way of preventing this synergy of creativity from fading, I don't see it slowing much soon—unless we wait out the impending recession to find out. Wouldn't a throwback to the Studio 54 days, when socialites, artists and beautiful nobodies were all brought together, be in order for recapturing what used to inspire people to come to this city and bring their creative energies to make it thrive?

[John Varvatos Wanted To Be A Rock Star When He Grew Up]