In the world of modern menswear, P.Johnson Tailors explains why suiting and tailoring will always be relevant to the male consumer.
As the workplace gets more casual, it’s more common to see men head to work in slim jeans or chinos, a crewneck jumper, and a simple pair of sneakers more than a suit. But that doesn’t mean classic menswear and its tailoring traditions are in danger of becoming extinct. As Patrick Johnson of P Johnson Tailors sees it, it means that tailors are going to have to listen to their clients even more closely in order to make relevant products.
The Australian-born tailor shop is holding a trunk show at buzzy NYC menswear purveyor Carson Street this weekend. I stopped by the opening party last night to get Patrick Johnson’s take on tailoring’s place in the modern men’s fashion paradigm.
How did you start your career as a tailor?
I grew up in Australia and moved over to London after school. I worked with tailor Robert Emmett for eight years, which was an amazing and formative time in my life. After that I returned to Australia where I started my own business. In the beginning it was just me driving around from Sydney to Melbourne to Adelaide every week, seeing clients whenever I could.
Now we have three flagship stores. One in SoHo on Spring and Wooster, one in Sydney, and one in Melbourne. We have a workshop in Tuscany, and service the Asian market with trunk shows. We’re planning on opening a store early next year in London.
And your offerings are made-to-order?
Everything we do is custom, save for some knitwear we do off -the-rack. The majority of the stuff we make in Italy in our workshop.
Who is your client?
Our clients are pretty young on the whole, and tailored clothing, as you probably know, has had a bit of a tough five years on the market. Our clients still want to wear tailored clothes, but they wear them soft, they wear them unstructured. I love the fact that our clients wear tailored clothing with the rest of their wardrobe in a really natural, unforced way.
That’s how we look at it: Our job is to make it easier for our clients to dress when they wake up in the morning, and everything has to work well together. So the softness and casualness works in that way really well.
What’s the suit’s place in the modern wear-to-work wardrobe?
A lot of our clients don’t have to wear a suit in that old, formal, way to work, but they have to dress up to look the part. I look at what we do, and they’re definitely changing the way they’re dressing, but they still want to dress up at times. They like getting dressed, looking good, and feeling good.
The suit has a really good role in that, but keeping it in the wardrobe in a relevant way is really important. I think a lot of other tailors miss the mark. Our client is generally a young guy who loves quality, loves luxury, and wants something that isn’t in every store in the world, something made especially for him. But he doesn’t want to spend a lot for it either: He wants it for a reasonable price, and that’s what we specialize in, making great value-for-money product. You can have a small wardrobe, it just has to all be right.
Guy Trebay wrote about the “waning fortunes of the suit” in The New York Times. Do you agree?
I completely agree with him. In the past, there was a great place for the suit in the wardrobe. The world’s changed a lot in the past hundred years—even in the past five years. And tailoring has not changed as a craft. It needs to be updated; it needs to change; it needs to think about the customer, and not the company.
You see these lovely tailored clothing companies now, and they’re really panicking. They’re trying to look for new creative direction. But I just think about my customer. I think about what they’re doing, how they’re living, where they’re going, and how tailored clothing will be part of their wardrobe.
Menswear consumers want value, quality, and a certain integrity. They want clothes that reflect their lifestyle.
I completely agree. This customer now, the brands they buy are an extension of them and what they’re feeling. Our clients love the fact that our process is really collaborative. We’re selling a unique experience, and they come seek that out—our whole business is done by word-of-mouth. We’re not salespeople, we’re really just focused on experience and product. I’m a real product guy, and I love putting beautiful garments on people’s backs, and I like them to be worn! I don’t want them hanging in a wardrobe. I don’t want to sell someone ten suits; I want them to have one or two, wear them to death, and come back for more.
You have a really beautiful jackets with a minimal magnetic closure. How’d that come about?
We did these magnetic closures for a client who wanted a white dinner jacket, but hated the idea of having buttons. We played with a lot of different options, and our head cutter suggested magnet fastenings, like he’d seen on skiwear. So we developed this high-powered magnet that’s silicon-coated and waterproof. We do them on the bottoms of trousers as well. I really like putting features on clothing that forces the client to interact with it in a different way, and forges that relationship between the client and the product.
Does travel play into your clients’ needs at all?
All of our suits are travel suits. A New Yorker doesn’t live in New York year-round right? We specialize in casual tailoring—especially lightweight casual tailoring. So we construct everything with travel in mind. We use a cloth that’s Teflon-coated so it wicks away dirt, gets rid of moisture, and you can wear it in the rain and it doesn’t crease too much. We have to be thinking about this stuff, because a client isn’t going to come to us with that specific thing in mind, but he’s going to appreciate it when he wears it.
How can tailoring remain relevant as menswear skews towards a more casual aesthetic?
I get sick of hearing people say that “menswear’s struggling right now.” I walk past Supreme, and 90% of the people on line are men. They’re shopping! Lots of those guys are our clients, too. They want something special that they can’t get in a lot of places. They want something unique. Tailored clothing is the same. You have to look at the customer, and look at how they’re wearing clothes.
Don’t sit there going: “Oh the suit’s been like this forever, and this is great!” I’m from Australia mate, I’m from the bottom of the world. I know I’m an outsider, and I look at what the rest of the world’s doing with a really open view, and I just want to service that client as best as we possibly can. I’ll always just do beautiful product—that’s it.