It's a striking image Johnson makes when you meet him for the first time. We had arranged to meet at one of Andrew McConnell’s latest gastro accomplishments, Cumulus. But having left no information as to how to recognise each other I wondered what we'd do. Normally I might go for the red rose in romantic novel trick, or maybe a hat. I needn't have worried; Johnson walks in wearing an impeccably cut two-button Cadet Blue suit with crisp white shirt and, in a playful flouting of the rules, a green tie that sits somewhere on the thin side of wide. You couldn't miss him; his style rises above, yet never feels contrived or unnecessarily fashionable. Maybe the large Globetrotter luggage set he uses for samples or the notes with his Suit Shop cursive brand identity would have eventually given him away?
Johnson's looks are comfortably nonchalant, that kind of eccentricity normally reserved for aristocracy and idiosyncratic English gentry. There is no irony, just a nod to the left of centre. Growing up in Adelaide, it was Johnson’s father who set the example, unafraid in tailored suits, cravats and beautiful fabrics, "old English dandy style". He sports a blond quiff and short beard, he's slim and tall and looks sharp. He is the poster boy of the 'it all starts with you' rule. He is comfortable as the protagonist, stirring the pot, taking equal stares of admiration with those of misguided ridicule. Trust me, he looks great; I felt underdressed the entire time. After completing a winemaking course and following it to its most likely conclusion, Johnson found himself in France. Discovering he was physically allergic to the process he left for London and soon found himself at the eminent London arts school St. Martins, moving on to apprentice for bespoke shirtmaker Robert Emmet soon after.
After several years on the frontline of tailoring tradition, Johnson returned home with the ambitious idea of bringing back quality and tailoring to the men of Australia. Opening Suit Shop, he set about throwing around rules of attire with supreme confidence; his ‘rules’ are never confronting, but as he accentuates his tie, shirt plackets and lapels he asks "What's the point? Why would you want to cut off these great vertical lines?", artfully and affably articulating his dislike of trouser belt loops. (Ask any tailor and they'll advocate the use of side tabs or a cinch-back to adjust any sizing issues you may have.) Of course your trousers will be tailored anyway, so it will be such attitudes that Johnson will have the toughest time convincing Australian men to let go of. So many lackadaisical and embedded ideas of dress stand in his way. Yet as he leans down to his English-made suede brogues and elaborates on their construction and wear, you're conscious that his vast knowledge of the industry and the sartorial pleasures it affords him will keep him in good stead. It's very reassuring.
At Suit Shop, you can expect a few things your local off-the-shelf ready-to-wear guy can't offer: high armholes (which, contrary to popular belief, are more comfortable and offer more movement), soft shoulders, less artificial padding and a true expression of both your body and a tailor's skill. Slim styling helps too and the goal of any tailor should be to make you look your best. Fabrics are from the best Italian mills with the simple justification that Mediterranean cloth is much better suited to our climate and lifestyle. I suspect there's a second, more romantic reason as Johnson divulges a love for Italian cinema, Spaghetti Westerns and the dolce vita embrace of style and substance.
Like a school kid innocently boasting about his new bike's greatness, Johnson bandies around techniques in tailoring that haven't been used in mainstream Australian manufacturing for years. To him it's a given, and through his vast network of contacts and suppliers his suits and shirts are made in England and the Netherlands by craftsmen and artisans dedicated to quality. Because for him, quality isn't a perceived notion, it isn't subjective; you either have it or you don't. What Patrick Johnson has established for Australian men is not an alternative, but the alternative where his prices actually represent astonishing value for money. There's that word again. Value.
Patrick Johnson splits his time between Melbourne and Sydney. When in town his studio and shop is The Brush Factory in Windsor, a delightful old Melbourne building where Johnson will walk you through all that is required – from measurements to styles and fabrics. He is available through appointment only and has an amazingly quick turnaround of five to six weeks depending on requirements.