By Shawnda Shaffer
“I do what I do and I stay true to who I am.” The idea that consistency has a place in a world of constant evolution may seem foreign to many designers in today’s fashion industry. However, fashion designer Samuel Vartan has found a way to establish a successful brand without chasing trends. Samuel Vartan is a man of many cultures, with roots in Greece, Lebanon, Canada, and now Boston. Even with such vast cultural exposure, he still searches for inspirations in Europe.
“There is enough inspiration in Europe to last me five lifetimes,” Vartan said. Add a lifetime of travel, cultural stimulation, and musical expression, and the result is a collection of rich velvets, sensual lace, sharp leather, and soft linens. From a rich velvet dress to a leather jacket, each design is constructed to make a statement of confidence and power. Vartan’s Dark City line is meant to express who he is in the fall and winter, while Mediterraneo represents Samuel Vartan in the spring and summer months.
I sat down with Samuel to find out where it all began and where he plans to go. As a consumer and a stylist, I know that clothes are always deeper than the fabric. Every design starts with inspiration and a vision. In the end, a collection is left to tell the entire story.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your childhood and where you are from.
A: I was born in Athens, Greece, and at an early age we settled in Beirut, Lebanon, while my father finished his studies. In 1968, we moved to Montreal, Canada, where I grew up. Traveling allowed me to experience all kinds of different beautiful cultures.
Q: What was life like before you became a designer, and what led you to where you are now?
A: It was about finishing school in film and communications while fronting a band in the ‘80s. I was quite actively involved in the art scene, and Montreal allowed for my artistic freedom. I never thought of myself as a fashion designer. I was still trying to decide whether I wanted to continue musically or in the film industry. A series of events must have happened that narrowed it down and led me to fashion, both creatively and financially.
Q: What was the process in establishing your brand?
A: My first design experience was creating outfits for our band’s last tour. Interestingly enough, I was designing to end something. My next experience was when a friend of mine at a café eatery asked me to dress his waitresses. When my designs got to the pattern maker, my talent was noticed and relayed. Next thing I knew my name was on the label. Friends of friends started making requests, and next thing I knew I was running a shop out of my mother’s kitchen- poor woman! I realized this business was taking on a life of its own, and the rest is pretty much history. In 2001, I started the company with my first name, Samuel, and my middle name: my grandfather’s last name, Vartan.
Q: How do you want your consumer to feel when he or she wears your garments?
A: I want them first to feel as though they are transported into a reflection of my thoughts, feelings, and inspirations. If a woman puts on one of my linen dresses, I want her to feel like she is on vacation. If they put on one of my velvet jackets I want them to feel like a rock star. I want
a woman to feel confident in herself, her career, and her body.
Q: Where do you find your greatest inspiration?
A: Travel is a big deal for me. There is never a shortage of information that comes to you. And film, ‘60s and ‘70s films, and the icons that came out of those eras are very inspiring. The ‘60s is when I grew up, and that world was influential to me. In my time, thick eyeliner, tight-fitting mini dresses, and cleavage were the norms. I was surrounded by bold women and men who clearly loved fashion. I find the most inspiration from my own experiences with other cultures, especially in Europe.
Q: What is your least favorite part of the design process? What is your favorite part?
A: I enjoy the whole process. There is no part that I hate. That is why I do it. Of course I enjoy turning my ideas into something tangible. The hardest part is waiting for the samples to arrive. I am still surprised when I show people the end product and they say they want to buy it and wear it. I am still excited, you know; I feel like a little kid.
Q: Who do you admire most in this business?
A: Of course that would be Georgio Armani. He has such a love for fabric, and his story is amazing too. He was on his way to med school and was working as a window dresser with fabrics, and he simply fell in love with it. He was worried to tell his family he wanted to leave the medical field and pursue a career as a designer. I can relate to that feeling that if I don’t do this, I will die. He was the first guy I looked up to as a human being, designer, and business man. I was wearing Armani before I even knew who Georgio Armani was.
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment thus far as a designer?
A: As a person, of course I would say my son. But as a designer, I would have to say that my latest collection is my biggest accomplishment thus far. Every collection that I have done seems to be getting a better response. I want to do this to the end as a student. I have learned a lot from a lot of talented people in this industry and I would not be where I am without them. It is just so rewarding knowing that I can make a life out of doing something I love.
Q: How do you like being a designer in a city such as Boston?
A: It is not a surprise that when you come from Montreal, which I consider to be a smaller version of New York, it is hard. There is so much talent out there. But it is hard when you come to Boston. I think the puritan stigma is still here. It is a sports city. Fashion and sports for me don’t go together. I think things will change. I think what has to happen is that Boston needs to expand its horizons. I have to search far and wide to find the European taste and an audience that I can appeal to. It’s a tight city; I think people are very uptight about spending money. However, Europeans would starve themselves to get a dress they want. But I am still here.
Q: Where do you see yourself and your brand in the next five to ten years?
A: That’s a hard one, because I always thought I would be back in Montreal or in New York City to give my business the chance that it deserves. But it is important, no matter where I am, that I get my daily dose of fashion.
Q: As a wrap-up, are there any particular 2012 trends that you hope to capitalize on in the near future?
A: Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I do not follow trends. I am not a forecaster; I stay true to myself. I do not want to be a trendsetter or trend chaser. I just do what I do. I want people to easily recognize a Samuel Vartan piece; then, I have done my job.
Photos By Courtesy of Samuel Varton