PHOTOGRAPHY MAX SNOW
TEXT ELLIOTT DAVID
INTERVIEW JOHN VARVATOS
When one visualizes lggy Pop, what typically comes to mind is the filthy-blond snarling badass half-naked on stage, his torso looking like some immaculate leather-on-steel machine, contorted in an impossible yogic pose, his mouth agape, rupturing the minds and eardrums of an astonished audience. His epic performances—lggy's still killing it on the Stooges' reunion tour—are spectacular ballets of raw larynx power and undressed, flabbergasting physique. Despite his near-nudity, he's inarguably a fashion icon, proving that style can be just as much about attitude as apparel. As for the look he represents, there's possibly no greater purveyor of that broken-bottle, suited-brawlers rock aesthetic than John Varvatos. lggy recently starred in one of Varvatos's classic classic-rock campaigns, and we snuck our way into a conversation between these two Detroit legends to eavesdrop on the origin of lggy's look and some back-in-the-day tales.
ELLIOTT DAVID First, would it be wrong to assume you two have obviously known each other a long time?
JOHN VARVATOS We've actually only known each other for about three or four years.
IGGY POP Yeah, John gave me a gig. He hired me to be the world's ugliest model, which started me on the path to my recent selection in Britain as the world's ugliest man.
JV I saw you all over the buses in London yesterday. You're all around!
ED Where did you shoot it?
JV It was shot in Central Park. It was great. IP I've done a lot of things on park benches in my life, everything from inhabiting down to soiling them. They have some very nice benches in London and Paris where I've managed to write some good things. You know, very civilized park benches.
ED lggy, was it your first time modeling?
IP I can't remember. There's a lot I don't remember. When I lived in Hollywood, I liked to cross-dress when I got drunk; I remember once I modeled for the West Hollywood Police Station. They didn 't like what I was wearing and put me in jail.
ED lggy, I think John's most famous store is the location that took over the CBGB space. What connection do you have to that space? I heard you actually never played there.
IP I preceded that movement. There were people in New York who remember this much better than I do: in late '75 or early '76 the CBGB movement held a party or a reception for me, a "punk reception" [laughs]. I went over there and had a drink with Johnny Thunder, Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Seymour Stein, who had the smaller label Sire [Records], which was independent at the time. That was really my big visit to CBGB's.
JV You were more of a Max's [Kansas City] guy.
IP Yeah, I was from a different era. I started going to Max's before it was a music bar-when it was still a steak house. It had been preempted by Andy Warhol , to pay his unpaid talent in free meals. If you were in one of his films and you could talk him into it, he would give you a piece of paper, like a credit card, that would get you a hamburger at Max's. There was a back room where these people hung out and charmed each other, and the only musician that hung out there, before David Bowie moved that way, was Lou Reed. And then John Gale and Nico. But something that always interested me when I went there was that often in the front of the restaurant, as far as they could get from the back room , you would see Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles having a hamburger. Jimi was curious , but I don't think he wanted to dip a toe in back there.
ED John, has lggy always been someone who represents your fashion aesthetic?
JV I wanted to look like the Stooges when I was growing up, and the Ramones and all those guys wanted to look like the Stooges later on. I saw the first Stooges album in 1968-69, and that's exactly what I wanted to look like-you know, with the black leather jackets and the skinny jeans and the flares. You made everyone else look like pussies. You guys looked tough and sexy at the same time. That was the thing , it wasn't like a '50s black leather jacket and baggy jeans-it was tight jeans and little flares and skinny motorcycle jackets. It's actually so fashionable right now too. Where did you guys get your influence from in terms of fashion at that point in time?
IP We were all influenced by the English invaders, especially the early Beatles and the early Stones. I always wanted to look like Charlie Watts, and I liked the portrayal and imagery of the Rolling Stones during the December's Children-David Bailey photograph period. But the big influences really, for me, were two groups of people. One was the inner-city black people from Detroit , the way they dressed was a sort of "continental style ," as they used to call it. The pocket was parallel to the ground, never on the diagonal , always horizontal. And the pants-if there's a flare, it should be a discreet flair, or a straightleg pant. And what you wear on top should be something that was ambiguously flashy, not obviously flashy. The other big influences for me were the Vietnam vets, guys coming back from Nam. They knew from guns, and it changed everything.