Authors: Mr. Gene Simmons
To my mother, who taught me the value of a penny.
To my family, Shannon, Soph & Nick, who taught me what life is all about.
And to America for giving this little immigrant boy all the opportunities it gives to its native-born sons and daughters.
BY JOHN VARVATOS
grew up in a suburb of Detroit. Five children and my parents in a three-bedroom, one-thousand-square-foot bungalow with one little bathroom. In this humble setting, I learned about the importance of family. I also learned about the importance of independence, and the hard work needed to gain it.
Paper routes, cleaning pools, cutting lawns, pumping gasâwhatever it took to earn some cash to carve out my own identity in these tight surroundings. As early as I remember, it was music that provided me with the emotional space I needed and clothes that gave me an edge. My earnings went to the local record shop and clothing stores.
When I was fifteen, I got a job in a men's store, selling clothes and taking advantage of the employee discount. While others sold a single shirt, I was pulling together outfits and entire wardrobes for my customers, and making enormous commissions. At eighteen, I went to college and studied pre-med. I took out student loans and continued to work my way through school selling menswear. The pre-med curriculum turned into a science teaching degree. I was earning significantly more selling clothes than I could as a teacher, and so I decided to stay in fashion.
At twenty-five, I partnered in opening a men's store, and for the next three years became obsessed with learning everything I could about running a business, being a buyer and merchant, and creating a brand. While doing this, I was noticed by the president of Ralph Lauren, who offered me a job heading up their sales division in the Midwest. A year and a half later, I was asked to move to New York and run the sales for the entire men's division. It was in this creative environment that, at the age of twenty-nine, a lightbulb went off and I discovered my true calling. I wanted to design the clothes that I had been selling for all those years.
I took chances, risks, and pay cuts to follow this calling. Five years later, I was head of design for all Calvin Klein men's brands. A few years after that, I returned to Ralph Lauren to head up men's designâone of the biggest jobs in global menswear.
In 1999 and in my forties, I left this amazing brand to start my own company, John Varvatos. With a fantastic team, we have created one of the top designer brands in the world. The road was, and continues to be, filled with bumps and bruises, but the rewards are worth the fight. I have been able to pursue and execute many of my passions: working with the biggest rock music artists on the planet, having my own radio show on Sirius XM satellite radio, designing a car for Chrysler, and publishing my first book on rock-and-roll and fashion. No one ever said it was going to be easy. Hard work, passion, vision, and continuing to raise the bar are all part of staying on top. Staying true to my vision and my brand is the golden rule.
While Gene Simmons's path has been quite different than mine, we share many similarities and I see in him a kindred spirit. We both have built brands that have unique identities and a clear DNA. We both have never forgotten where we came from. And just as important, our passion and commitment are stronger today than ever before. These values stand at the core of
and the hard-learned wisdom laid out here is a road map for success that anyone can benefit from.
John Varvatos has become a household name. His fashions are everywhere. My son, Nick Simmons, ran into him at an event and relayed the message that Varvatos would welcome the opportunity to work with KISS. Soon after, KISS flew to New York to do a photo session and play a special invite-only show. Little did I know that, prior to meeting John, he had excellent tasteânot just in clothing, but in costume. The photo above is John Varvatos on January 1, 2000.
he first question you may ask is, “Who does this guy think he is? And why is a rock star writing a business book?”
Good questions. Keep reading.
Before we begin, let me point out that this book is designed to have two separate sections.
A “ME” section. As in ME, Incorporated.
And a “YOU” section. As in, YOU, Incorporated.
There's a little bit of “ME” in “YOU,” of course, and there's a little bit of “YOU” in “ME.” As it is with life. We're not so different.
At the end of each chapter in the “YOU” section you will also notice what I like to refer to as “The Art of More,” which takes the experiences and advice I share in the book and boils them down to thirteen principles for success. Why thirteen principles? For one, I don't believe in luck as much as I do in hard workâbut I'm also a fan of Sun Tzu's classic,
The Art of War
, which was divided into thirteen chapters. So you can consider these principles and this book an
Art of War
for winning the battles of everyday life.
You are welcome to skip my section (ME), and start reading your section (YOU). Or, you can read the book from the beginningâcover to cover. Both are fine. A word of caution, though: please don't use my experiences as a template or a shortcut for the hard work and self-education you will need in order to become a successful entrepreneur. My experiences and my journey have been mine alone. I had to educate myself. And I had to figure out the maze that lay in front of me, in order to rise to the top.
You will have to do likewise for yourself in order to rise to the top.
Have group discussions.
Read the book with friends and family.
Talk about it.
“Just Do It.”
As I sit writing this, KISS has just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by a landslide vote from fans. This comes on top of getting our own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and keys to numerous cities; being allowed to ring the bell at both the New York and Toronto stock exchangesâwell, all of it becomes almost more than I ever thought was possible, when my mother and I first set foot on this hallowed ground.
Though I was born in Israel, I can tell you that it's America that has become the Promised Land. Not just for me, but for people of all walks of life, all skin colors, and all nationalities. I will be forever indebted to this country for allowing me to breathe free, dream big, and achieve anything I ever imagined I could. And I want to thank America and its people for allowing this little immigrant boy's dreams to come true.
Now, go out there and make YOUR dreams come true.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
English author and playwright
f you've read my autobiography, much of this will sound familiar to you. However, even after we put our lives to paper, life moves on. I've gone through changesâwith my family, my wife, and even the way I've chosen to view my distant past. All of the history you are about to read informed my identity as a businessman and an entrepreneur. So, even if you've heard it before, let's turn the clock back and remember.