John Varvatos Turns Kiss Into 'Rock 'n' Roll Gentlemen' for New Campaign

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Fashion designer John Varvatos has landed his self-described heroes, rock band KISS, as the extremely made-up face of his spring 2014 collection advertising campaign, inspired by one of the band's most iconic album covers.

"The idea was to do something that was against the grain, groundbreaking, and disruptive. KISS are all of the above and that's what rock 'n' roll is supposed to be," said Mr. Varvatos via email from Milan, Italy. He called the band "super heroes" and said creating the new campaign has been a highlight of his career—and of his life.

The feeling is mutual. "John Varvatos is the epitome of rock 'n' roll fashion and we couldn't be more honored to be a part of his legacy," said Paul Stanley of KISS in a statement.

The campaign announcement was made Saturday by Mr. Varvatos during his show at Milan Fashion Week and followed by a surprise KISS performance at the end of the fashion show. The spring collection, as described by Mr. Varvatos, is "a return to elegance" with dressy looks featuring texture and intricate tailoring in tall and sleek silhouettes.

Danny Clinch shot the campaign's five black-and-white images in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood with the Manhattan Bridge in the background. The campaign is a throwback to KISS' 1975 album 'Dressed to Kill' and to the many images of KISS shot throughout Manhattan in the 70s and 80s, according to Stephen Niedzwiecki, founder and chief creative officer of New York-based Yard, John Varvatos Enterprise's agency of record.

The location shoot is also of significance to the members of KISS: Gene Simmons was born in Israel but lived in Queens, N.Y. and went to school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Mr. Stanley is from Manhattan and Queens.

In the campaign images, each band member wears a different tailored John Varvatos suit, in addition to their well-known black-and-white makeup. The five images will start running immediately after the fashion show, but for print only the three group images will drop in March. Print ads are planned for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and the program for the 56th annual Grammy Awards.

The campaign also includes the debut of a three-minute short film, directed by Mr. Clinch and created by Yard, documenting a surprise October KISS concert at the former music venue CBGB, now a John Varvatos store at 315 Bowery in New York. About 200 people were invited to the surprise show under the premise of being in a music video shoot, Mr. Niedzwiecki said. KISS was supposed to sing the same song "Rock N Roll All Night" four times but decided last minute to make the show into a full set, said Mr. Niedzwiecki. The documentary will be available on

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"For me and John, this was such a big moment for us. We've been talking about KISS for many years," said Mr. Niedzwiecki. "I'd be surprised if a lot of people don't have some form of connection with the band, especially those growing up in America. It goes back to that song ["Rock N Roll All Night"]. That's an iconic party song. Even if you don't know who's singing it, you know the song."

The film is a combination of clips from the CBGB show and interviews with Mr. Simmons and Mr. Stanley. "I probably have a lose screw someplace in my head. Otherwise, I wouldn't be wearing more makeup and high heels than your mommy," says Mr. Simmons as the film opens with scenes of the band putting on makeup and traveling through New York to the Bowery. "Boy do I look good."

Mr. Niedzwiecki calls the brand platform "rock 'n' roll gentlemen."

Mr. Niedzwiecki has worked with Mr. Varvatos for nearly 10 years, having helped the brand launch its rock 'n' roll theme. The two have collaborated on 19 print campaigns, along with a handful of short films, while photographer Mr. Clinch has shot the campaigns. Other John Varvatos celebrity collaborations have included Iggy Pop, Green Day, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Velvet Revolver and Alice Cooper.

KISS, which has released 44 albums and sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, will be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, coinciding with the band's 40th anniversary. An anniversary world tour will kick off March 15 in Mexico City.

The John Varvatos brand launched in 2000 and carries tailored clothing and sportswear as well as footwear, bags, belts, watches and fragrances. Revenues are over $100 million, according to sources.

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