The new campaign for the John Varvatos brand pairs country music legend Willie Nelson (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) with his two sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson, also emerging artists. The iconic black and white images were shot in Des Moines, Iowa, by photographer Danny Clinch at the historic Salisbury House, where the three sharply dressed Nelsons epitomize a stately family portrait.
Nelson is one of the most recognized American singer-songwriter icons as well as a celebrated author, poet, actor and progressive activist. In the late 1960s and early '70s, Willie was one of the main figures of outlaw country, a subgenre that developed as a reaction to conservative Nashville sound and recorded the critically acclaimed album “Red Headed Stranger.”
He grew up during the Depression, wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at 10. In the '80s, Willie had a series of hit songs including “On the Road Again” and “To all the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” Now based in Austin, Texas, and Maui, Hawaii, Willie is married to Annie D’Angelo, mother of his two youngest sons, Lukas and Micah.
Willie is on a North American tour and gearing up for his annual Farm Aid benefit concert to be held in upstate New York in September. The 24-year-old Lukas Nelson leads the American rock band Promise of the Real and along with brother Micah, they regularly collaborate, tour and perform with their father. Micah Nelson, 23, has his own band Insects vs. Robots and performs acoustically as the Particle Kid.
Willie Nelson says, “John Varvatos and his team are great — his clothes look and feel good on your skin and are made for every man…and his sons.” His son Lukas Nelson adds,"It was a great pleasure to get to know John and hang with him. We all seem to have a similar outlook on life and it was nice to have my whole family together in the same room for this shoot." His brother Micah Nelson comments, "When you dress sharp in John Varvatos, it’s easy to feel like the biggest gangster badass in the room. It was a special day.”
According to Stephen Niedzweicki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD and longtime Varvatos collaborator, “The past two seasons we have paired artists together such as Paul Weller and Miles Kane, as well as Gary Clark Jr. with Jimmy Page. This season brought an opportunity to not only shoot a music legend but pair him with his two sons who have both been brought up on the road and now have musical visions and careers of their own.” The inspiration for the print campaign came from family portraits of the late 1800s and early 1900s. “We wanted to create a real portrait of Willie and his sons that is classic and regal, because in my eyes, Willie Nelson has an emotional presence that stays with you long after you meet him, like meeting a U.S. President or the Queen of England.”
The full campaign was shot at the 1920s historic museum Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa. Known for its outstanding Tudor Revival architecture, rare decorative art, and inspiring landscape, Varvatos felt this location was the perfect backdrop for the campaign’s 3-minute 16-second short film, which premiered JohnVarvatos.com on July 9.
Niedzweicki says, “We created a mini documentary featuring Willie and his sons playing guitar together and performing the song “Still is Still Moving to Me,” cut with moments of the three talking music and style influences, growing up on the road, having famous “uncles” (Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings) and hating haircuts.” The end result reflects a tender and private insight into Willie and his sons today with a timeless feel that will be relevant when watched 10 years from now.
Photographer Danny Clinch adds, “Willie Nelson is classic and timeless. He stands for living your life on your own terms and being respected for it. He will never go out of style. This was yet another great opportunity for our team to work with someone we admire. The shoot showed the strength of the Nelson bond and the film showed the camaraderie and special heartfelt connection between father and sons.”
“In all the iconic music ad campaigns we have shot over the last eight years, I have never been so moved as I was working with Willie Nelson and his sons,” says designer John Varvatos. “Willie is a true American Icon and it runs deep in the bloodline. I am proud to be friends with Willie and his beautiful family.”
In the brand’s Fall 2013 campaign, Willie wears a John Varvatos black “Hampton” two-button notch lapel tuxedo, white French cuff shirt with wing collar, eyewear and his own boots. Lukas wears a John Varvatos black “Austin” one-button peak lapel tuxedo, black double-breasted vest, silk micro-polka-dot scarf, blue velvet boots and eyewear. Micah wears a John Varvatos black “Hampton” two-button notch lapel suit, black dress shirt and pinstripe vest, silver skinny tie with black and white “Fleetwood” boots.
For more information, visit johnvarvatos.com.