Fashion designer draws on background for new book

Published 5:32 pm Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oh, the power of dreams.

Mixed with the right amount of passion and hard work, dreams can serve as the fuel for success for those willing to pursue them.



In the case of Verbena native Perry Varner, believing in his dreams has taken him from County Road 59 all the way to New York City, from VHS art student to fashion designer and now, author.

Varner recently announced the upcoming release of his new book, “A Perfect Pair,” a “fictional narrative based in the 1980s, a hidden era of segregation that follows three decades of brown boys and girls as they dare to dream,” according to a press release.

While the story in the book may be a fictional account, Varner said there were pieces of his own life sewn into the narrative.

“The book is based on my life,” he said. “It’s an autobiography in a fictionalized (setting). It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz—you go all over looking for something that was there the whole time.”

One of the key themes of the book was dreaming big and overcoming obstacles, Varner said.

A 1991 graduate of Verbena High School, Varner moved to Montgomery for college, earning a degree in business with a concentration in multicultural marketing.

An internship in Atlanta with Earthlink Live followed, and in Atlanta, Varner began working for himself on various entertainment and fashion projects, before being hired to be the head designer for 205 Flava, a designer label in Birmingham.

“One opportunity led to another,” Varner said. “People in Alabama know me from working with Terrell Owens, and from working with Ruben Studdard.”

In addition to working with former NFL star Owens, among other celebrities, one of Varner’s accomplishments was designing the famous “205” jerseys that Studdard wore during his time on American Idol.

He said the passion for design came from a love of art.

“It’s all based on art,” he said. “Fashion is kind of an extension of that. I went to a small school, and I was pretty much the only artist.”

In 2011, Varner moved to New York City to pursue fashion design, and began to feel the need to write a novel based on his travels, as well as the relationship between fashion and culture, especially in relation to the Civil Rights Movement.

“I kind of incorporated life, the culture of the South and the culture of New York City,” he said. “That’s where the title comes from. Black and white, North and South, everything’s perfectly aligned, but totally different. The idea came when I noticed that I had personally lived in all of the civil rights cities that are important in history: Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta and then Harlem. Since activism and history are equal passions for me, I used that as a template for the story. I also realized how important of a role fashion (had) in these movements like the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement. So it just naturally became a story based on these cities and those experiences.”

In writing, Varner said he used experiences from his youth to help form some of the story.

“I think my experiences at Verbena prepared me for life,” he said. “I had a lot of issues. (There were) a lot of racial issues (due to) a lack of communication on both sides. Fortunately, it’s a lot better now.”

That said, Varner said he saw cultural issues across the country, not just limited to the South.

“It shaped how I view people,” he said. “I was able to learn as much as we have issues here, they have them (in the North). We know we’re different, but we’re also a lot alike and we have a lot of work left to do.”

Still, Varner said he has never forgotten where he’s come from, and said he had support growing up in Verbena that led him to pursue his dreams.

“My parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Clarence and Nettie Varner, instilled an undeniable ‘you-can-do-anything’ spirit in me and my four siblings as it related to education and achievement,” he said. “Also my third grade teacher at Verbena, Mrs. Kathy Hopper, was the next person that told me I had an above-average artistic gift as a student. She encouraged me to sketch, draw and paint more.”

Varner also said he encourages young people to focus on life at the moment in order to plan for the future.

“Success is a state of mind that starts with knowing who you are and loving yourself,” he said. “I would also say to them to do the most where you are first. You are uniquely who and where you are for a reason. There’s so much knowledge to gain from your environment whether its Clanton or NYC. Then use those unique things about you to create a foundation for your own destiny.”

Varner said he felt his days in Verbena have impacted him for life.

“You have to be proud of where you come from,” he said. “I do think about that little guy from Verbena. My passion has taken me from County Road 59 to NYC. I try not to get consumed by it.”

Varner will embark on a 22-city book tour to promote “A Perfect Pair: A Beautifully Complex Relationship between People of Color and Fashion,” which is available for pre-order from Nayberry Publications.

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