Since fashion designer John Barlett exploded onto the menswear scene in 1992 and quickly earned kudos from his peers, including the prestigious “Perry Ellis Award of Best Newcomer” in 1993 and CFDA’s “Menswear Designer of the Year” in 1997, the Cincinnati-native has continued to help shape how men look using daring color and masculine details.
Once called “one of the bright fashion stars of the last decade” by the New York Times, the Harvard grad has made some smart moves in his career, including taking a much-deserved year off to study Ashtanga yoga and Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia. In 2003, he returned to the fashion industry with renewed determination that lead to the opening of his a namesake boutique in New York’s West Village and, most recently, a collaboration with Liz Claiborne to create a men’s collection called “Claiborne by John Barlett.”
Around that same time of his return, he met his adorable four-legged best friend, Tiny Tim, at the North Shore Animal League, the world’s largest adoption and rescue shelter. Here, Bartlett poses for Monica with his so-called “tripod dog,” which inspired a logo for a special tee shirt for men and women (all proceeds go to NSAL), plus two of his other furry friends along with a special gift from his father.
Tell us how you came to own this precious object.
“My heirloom is my beloved father’s 1975 Cincinnati Reds World Series ring. When he passed away a year and a half ago, my mother told me that he wanted his three children to have his three favorite possessions: His two World Series rings and a pennant ring. He had received them while working at the local TV station that carried the Reds’ games. They meant everything to him. He loved to show them off and was so proud to be the man who had negotiated the contracts for the station with the team.”
How do you live with your heirloom?
“I keep my heirloom in a little box in my drawer next to my bed. I tried to wear it, but it wasn’t my style and was forever falling off my finger. I will go weeks without thinking about this ring, but every now and then, when I pull it out, memories of my father and our family outings to ball games come flooding back.
When I was seven, my dad took us down to the dug-out and I met Johnny Bench and Pete Rose. We had our photo taken with the whole team, which was amazing. I wasn’t an especially big baseball fan but my dad was so proud of his association with the team (the TV station had a ‘room’ at the stadium where he would go most nights to entertain clients) and loved to wear the rings of the championship team.”
Who in your life has most influenced your personal style and taste?
“My grandmother definitely was my first style inspiration. I remember when she arrived at my first communion in a banana yellow mini dress and white patent go-go boots. I was in heaven. She came from very humble beginnings but knew how to create a splash and express herself through clothing and inspired me to do the same.”
[Fill in the blank] Whenever I look at __“my three dogs”___I can’t help but smile. “They are pure love and will forever be my children. They are uncomplicated and love me for who I am. I can sit and watch them play tug-o-war and run around the house for hours. It is magic.”
What’s the best part of your day?
“The best part(s) of my day are the beginning and the end. If I have the time in the morning, I love to lay in bed with my three dogs—a three-legged Rottie-Shepherd, a Chihuahua-Jack Russell Terrier (both are rescues) and a Bernese Mountain Dog—and read the New York Times while my lovely partner, John, brings me up a cup of coffee. The dogs will fall back asleep and sometimes we’ll all doze together.
My other favorite part of the day is late at night when I’m up working and my creative juices are flowing. The house is silent and my tripod dog, Tiny Tim, is lying at my feet while I work.”
What was the most memorable gift you’ve ever given or received?
“The most memorable gift I have ever received is my education. Both of my parents came from very humble backgrounds in small Ohio towns. It was their mission to send their three children to good schools and to provide them with the education they never were able to afford for themselves. Going to Harvard was a dream-come-true for me and for my parents. The fact that they could send me there was the greatest gift ever.”
What was your last purchase that you believe (or hope) will mean something to you 10 years from now?
“My partner John and I bought each other wedding bands from Ted Muehling. They are both gold made with an organic design that is thick and thin. Although the nation does not recognize my relationship as legal, these wedding bands represent a lifetime of commitment that I hope will always be there through ‘through thick and thin.’”