John Varvatos has been named chief design officer at Under Armour, overseeing the athletic brand’s design studios in New York, Baltimore and Portland, Oregon. He has already been consulting with the brand this year and takes the job permanently Sept. 11, according to a company press release.
Varvatos, whose 30-year career has included stints at American fashion brands Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, is known for taking aesthetic cues from Detroit’s punk scene. He founded his own label in 2000, which ended up in VF Corp’s stable when the conglomerate acquired partner Nautica in 2003. VF Corp sold a majority stake in the business to Lion Capital in 2012, and the private equity firm acquired all its assets amid bankruptcy eight years later.
He arrives at Under Armour as more consumers turn to activewear for activities well beyond sports. “The innovation, design and mission of the brand has never been more relevant as consumers demand clothes that function for both sport and everyday activities,” he said in a statement.
The fashion designer “created both the boxer brief at Calvin Klein and the laceless sneaker for Converse during the fifteen year collaboration with the John Varvatos brand,” per Under Armour’s release. He could help jump start a brand that has steadily slipped behind rivals. This year the company has shaken up its C-suite including welcoming a new chief executive, resorted to layoffs, focused more fully on athleisure and launched its first-ever loyalty program.
Newly arrived CEO Stephanie Linnartz has called 2023 “building year,” and Varvatos could be key to its results, experts said.
“I actually really like this hire — bringing a fresh perspective to product design, shifting the performance brand into a lifestyle brand,” Liza Amlani, principal and co-founder of Retail Strategy Group, said by email. “We wear performance and athletic apparel for more than activities and sport. Varvatos could fuel a fresh lifestyle aesthetic into the product assortment.”
Matt Powell, senior advisor at BCE Consulting, agreed that he “can bring some interesting design ideas to UA,” but noted that Under Armour’s needs are beyond aesthetic.
“UA needs to cull back SKUs and figure out how to capture the teen male,” he said by email.