Meet the Australian designer doing summer suiting right

Meet the Australian designer doing summer suiting right

From Sydney to Singapore

Text: Jolene Khor

Interview: Norman Tan

Unearthing Sydney's best kept secret, summer suiting master Patrick Johnson of P. Johnson Tailors

For the last nine years Patrick Johnson's made-to-measure label, P. Johnson Tailors, has gone under our radar. Shame on us, as his specialist workshop not only takes men's suiting under its wing, but seeks to reinvent the genre completely. Shoulder pads? Gone. Lining? Selectively unnecessary. Heavy wools, not on his watch. Johnson's suits, if he can help it, strive to be the lightest on the market; sparing you the sweat, whilst serving up the style.

His mission to rewrite the rules of the casual and work attire has gone global — first Australian menswear brand on Mr Porter type of global. Although the majority of Johnson's construction is still orchestrated in his backyard (that's Sydney for you) and fabrication in his sartoria in Carrara, Italy, he is now ready to bring in the herd. Click through the fruits of his ready-to-wear collection — which employs the same accent of handiwork and know-how as his bespoke line — in the gallery below. But first, a word from the man himself.

AUDIO EXCLUSIVE: Listen to Patrick Johnson's top recommendations from his ready-to-wear line.
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Where from did you get the idea for P. Johnson Tailors?
I just wanted to find an option for men where we could look and feel very elegant, but also comfortable. It was also important to me that this be accessible and made in Australia. It just grew from there — this idea of dressing men better, but in a really comfortable way that's sort of classically beautiful yet modern at the same time.

Up until recently, P. Johnson Tailors was primarily made-to-order. Tell us about the process, from the fittings to the finished product.
We make everything completely from scratch. So you come in and we have a conversation and we look at the options, and through that, we take the measurements. We go away and cut a pattern, and then about six to seven weeks later, you come back for an additional fitting. And then usually, you have a final fitting by that week. Most of the time, only three fittings are needed, occasionally four depending on whether there's weight gain or loss. And we do everything locally in Sydney. We have our own finishing workshops in Melbourne as well. Thanks to our Singapore trunk show, we come back every 10 weeks to finish and deliver goods. Although it's not exactly the same as having our own production made in one of our showrooms, it's a pretty close system. And we've been coming to Singapore for two and a bit years now, so we've gotten to know it well.

Let's talk fabrics.
Ninety percent of our cloth comes from Biella in Northern Italy and a few other weavers around there. We really like Biella because the cloths are really soft and beautiful and quite lightweight. We get some cotton from Japan too; the Japanese are very good at technology around cotton and cotton production. Some linen from northern France and Belgium. All our tailored garments at P. Johnson are made in our workshop at Carrara in Italy — it's our very own dedicated artisan workshop where everything is made by hand specifically for us in this really lightweight way. I think currently we make one of the lightest suits pretty much in the world, especially in custom-made lightweight suits.

Johnson cites the similar weather in Sydney and Singapore as a point of reference for his unlined suits.

Because everything is unlined right?
It's not only unlined — you can have it lined if you like — it's unstructured on the inside so it's cut to suit your body. It's hard to explain in words because these simple things are very complicated to get right. We have no shoulder pads to hide behind, so we're specialists in getting these completely unstructured moulds for lighter weight shirt jackets. We also do a little bit heavier canvas in some things — I have these canvases that are probably lighter than the lightest weight on the market, which is really nice.

So the idea is to not even realise you're in a suit.
Yes, the overall point is so you can put on the garment, feel good, look great, forget about it and get on with your day. There are many more important things in life [to worry about] than your suit.

What have you noticed about the Singapore customer?
Singapore, in a lot of ways, is incredibly similar to Sydney in the way we dress — because it's very hot outside, it's quite casual. But in our business sets, it's quite formal. We come from the same sort of background in the professional sense where it's very, very formal. So you need stuff that bridges between all dress codes. The other thing about Singapore, golf is incredibly popular, just like it is in Sydney. So we have a lot of golf stuff too, for guys who don't want to wear the big brands on the course.

"Nothing should ever be too tight; it should be comfortable. Nothing should be too loose either, or it'll be uncomfortable. You have to wear clothes that look like your own; like you belong in them."

Are you influenced by trends on the runway?
I think about this a lot. We'd like to say, "No, we're not influenced by fashion trends," but we're definitely inspired by them, especially trends in style, colour and art — contemporary art, which my wife and I are very into. But for us, we think more in terms of: "How can we make your wardrobe better?" The really big influence is our lifestyles. They have changed so much and we're pushed by our clients that way. We're travelling more than ever and the work wardrobe has kind of changed. The great thing about the size of our business is we can change quickly.

What about social media? Do you ever look at Instagram for inspiration?
This is really embarrassing... I don't have Instagram.

You don't have Instagram?
I know, it's awful. But I've got a little secret: When my wife goes to bed, I get on hers. With Instagram, you can see what's going on in lots of different parts of the world instantly and it's great. So I look at Singapore as a market and I look at what's happening, what the cool kids are up to and how can the brand be a part of that. I'm using Instagram like a voyeur, just to see how people are living and where they're running to, where they're going to holiday. But for styling stuff, probably not. Maybe I should.

Understanding how icons of yesteryear dressed in relation to how they lived encourages Johnson to do the same in current times.

Maybe inspiration is more organic for you?
I frequently look at photography from the past, art from the past, architecture from the past, interiors from the past. But you don't want to get stuck in there because it's boring, because it's been done. So we need to always do something new. Some of my customers are really cool and they're big part of what we do. A lot of older guys and younger guys, their approach to dressing is completely out of our field and I get an idea from them and you go, "Yeah, let's bring that in!"

What menswear rules still apply and what rules should we break?
A lot of people hide behind rules. Having said that, there are a few basic frameworks that work pretty well. Nothing should ever be too tight; it should be comfortable. In that same way, nothing should be too loose either, or it'll be uncomfortable. You have to wear clothes that look like your own; like you belong in them. That's why I like custom-made stuff. Don't go by this erratic approach of "buy, buy, buy". Build your foundation. Get those key pieces: That lovely pair of jeans, a beautiful white shirt, a lovely navy suit. It's a journey, you know. It's the reason why most really well-dressed men come a bit later in their lives — they've been through this journey of experimentation.  

Shop P. Johnson on Mr Porter now.