Cody Varona, clothing designer and owner of The Congregation of The Forgotten Saints LA talks with Lisa Marie Jimenez of Mayhem Music Magazine about rock fashion and explains why you have to be “true to yourself ” to survive in the industry.
Mayhem Music Magazine: What was the path that lead you to becoming a clothing designer?
Cody Varona: When I was twelve I saw Alice Cooper and all the craziness going on and the spectacle of it and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be onstage, I wanted to make that magic. This was also during the punk rock days which there weren’t stores and you made your own stuff. I was a little punk girl and it all just kind of happened. I didn’t have a business plan. I was making my own clothes. I went to shows five or six nights a week so all the bands started asking me where I got my clothes. I started making clothes for my friends and here I am today thirty years later.
Mayhem Music Magazine: So you’re a self-taught artist.
Cody Varona: Yeah, I didn’t go to fashion school. I didn’t go to business school. Self-taught and did it the hard way.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Has your fashion taste always been centered around rock music?
Cody Varona: I’m just an old school punk chick but I love rock, I love metal, I love music, I love glam rock, I love the New York Dolls style, I love all fashion. I don’t like trendy fashion. I don’t give a shit what’s going to be in fashion next month. I don’t care but with all the mystery of what rock has that’s what I love. I think a rock star or a band should walk through the room and everybody goes “that’s the fucking band”. They shouldn’t look like they just cleaned out the garage. I’ve done a lot. I done film, I’ve designed for other companies, but it bores me to tears. A lot of the looks I’ve put together for people, they’re not just in this square box. A lot of horror goes into it, a lot of glam goes into it, it really depends on what we’re doing.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Cody Varona: Everywhere. Monster magazines and it’s usually the older referenced stuff. I don’t read the fashion magazines on what’s happening now.
Mayhem Music Magazine: When you’re designing for someone. Do you work with the artist or person to create from the very beginning?
Cody Varona: It’s a collaboration it’s not about me. It’s about “who” I’m dressing and what they’re doing and what their message is. My job is to collaborate with the artist and envision what his message is with that album or with that song or with that photo shoot and bring that to life. If you notice my names not on every jacket that I do, it’s not about me. On my t shirts my names on it but when I do a design it speaks for itself. It’s about that guy. It has to be about “who” I’m working with or it’s all going to look the same.
Mayhem Music Magazine: But there is a style to your work that is distinctly noticeable where a person can say “Cody Varona made that”.
Cody Varona: That just happens because that’s who I am. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve made that nobody knows I made. I can do clean, nice stuff too. I love fabrics, I love textile, I love paisley, I love feathers. There’s not one square that I will stay within.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Mayhem talked to John 5 about you and this is what he had to say…
John 5: “As a person I would say she is number one. She is such a great person. She has such a great person. She has such a great heart. I’m just being very honest and what she’s done with clothes, she’s really helped me so much. She’s made me look great. I really owe it all to her. She really has made me look phenomenal. She is a genius, she really is. Everything I wear is what she’s made. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s the best. ”
Mayhem Music Magazine: How does it feel to be so influential to the modern day rock stars?
Cody Varona: That’s going to make me cry. It’s humbling. It’s just surreal because I love John. I love what he does. Sometimes I’ll look at it all and it’s just odd to see what you’ve done up there. I kind of always use the reference of ‘Frosty the Snowman’. It was just a top hat until Frosty put it on and then it was magic. So that’s what I do I make clothes but they’re just clothes until these guys put them on and they make them magic. They make them come to life.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Who are some of the major artist you have created for?
Cody Varona: John 5, he’s one of my favorite guys ever. I am fortunate enough to work with him that he pushes me into a whole different direction from light up, smoke up, do this, he always wants something new, he can do anything. He’s not worried about what people think or are his fans going to accept it. He’s just his own dude, I love working with him. I’ve worked with some of the guys from Styx and DJ ashba, I made his hat and I did all his wardrobe during Guns. All over the board which I’m super fortunate to have worked with some of the great people in rock. I’ve made some stuff for Nikki (Sixx), Rob Zombie, I’d have to look at my roster. I feel super fortunate when somebody calls me and says I want a new look or a new coat or doing a new tour and I really feel like I’m part of the team. I want to be part of the team. It’s not about me. It’s about creating something super cool.
Mayhem Music Magazine: The Congregation of the Forgotten Saints is not your first store. How different is FSLA than The Catwalk that you opened in LA in the 90’s?
Cody Varona: I’ve always had a love for rock music. I’ve always made rock clothes but during the time of grunge and rock was dead, even the bigger bands weren’t doing the crazy costuming or what have you. The Catwalk was more towards the club kid. So it was electronic music when that whole scene was really, really young in California. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed all the customers, I enjoyed all that kind of clothing because it would light up and it was very club kitty but I didn’t enjoy the music. I didn’t have the passion for what I did. Thankfully it all came around again but it was a different time though. We were selling tickets to clubs and we were involved in a lot of costume balls and Club Makeup was out here and I was in Orange County but I didn’t enjoy it as much as what I’m doing now.
Mayhem Music Magazine: When doing your clothing, do you have other people helping you or do you do it all from start to finish?
Cody Varona: I have a couple people help me stud and stuff but no, I make that stuff myself. I am studding at four in the morning. I am sewing at four in the morning. I am cursing at four in the morning. I am cutting things and it’s hard, hard work and you have to love it.
Mayhem Music Magazine: What your advice be for any new designer?
Cody Varona: Be true to yourself. I think you need to know the history of music and know the designers before us and have an appreciation for fabrics and styles because I love looking at all the older designers. There are so many great designs and styles out there. You have to have a love for it. You have to have a passion for it and not go into it to be famous. We have a lot of kids coming out who want to apprentice or they’ll want to intern and they’ll bring in their designs and they look like my designs. You have to have something fresh to say. That’s why I say be true to yourself. We all get influenced by things but just do your own thing. I think a lot of people go into things for the wrong reasons. That’s why I’ve been around for so long because I love what I do. Same thing with the bands or like with John 5. I’ve never seen that guy driving unless there’s a guitar in his hand. He’ll open his front door and he’ll just be talking to you. You have to love what you do. And that’s the difference between good and great.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Your clothing designs convey an expression of the love of music whether punk or rock. Do you feel that way when you create?
Cody Varona: Yeah, it comes from the fabric. I love fabric. I talk to a lot of guys when they write songs and they’ll sit down and say they’re going to write a love ballad. When it finally comes out it is so far from a love ballad that it’s crazy. I’ll have this piece of fabric and I’m going to make a pair of pants. By the time I’m done with it, it might be a dandy trench coat because I was thinking about David Bowie or Mick Jagger in 1969. It sounds stupid but it speaks to you. Are they all successful…no. It’s bout experimenting. That’s where some great stuff comes from. Kind of risking it.
Mayhem Music Magazine: You use your location for more than clothing. You also create an environment to feature photographers, painters, sculptures, and arts. What made you decide to also become a part time gallery?
Cody Varona: That’s what the congregation is about. It’s about everybody in the rock community coming together and exchanging ideas or collaborating with each other. I think everybody needs a place to show their art whether it be in clothing, photography, music. We’ve had a lot of acoustic shows in here. I think it’s super important to bring the community together in whatever that may be. It’s a clubhouse. Some know each other, some haven’t seen each other in forever. This is our tribe and we’re all in the building for the same reason. It’s great to get all these creative minds together.
Visit Cody and Forgotten Saints LA at: 7569 Melrose Ave Los Angeles, Ca. 90046
Facebook: Forgotten Saints LA
Instagram: Forgotten Saints LA