“We’re taking the theatre out of the made-to-measure process. We’re making it less daunting.”
Tom Riley is sitting in the tiny courtyard beneath the Melbourne headquarters of Suit Shop, explaining the reason for its existence.
Riley will be a name familiar to many as the Melbourne lynchpin of P. Johnson Tailors, a company that is steadily working towards an ideal wardrobe for the Australian man. At Suit Shop, P. Johnson’s exacting process has been pared back and streamlined to the point where it can deliver a high-quality, made-to-measure suit for under $1000.
“We’re normalising made to measure,” Riley says. “At the moment, guys care more about what they wear on casual Fridays than they do about their suits. We want guys to want to wear their suits, not feel they have to.”
Suit Shop’s tailors, including Matthew Newton, are appointed and trained by Riley and the Sydney-based Patrick Johnson to deliver on the pair’s combined knowledge of and enthusiasm for all aspects of suiting. The new space, above Von Haus on the corner of Crossley and Bourke Streets, is both part of and removed from the city’s top-end bustle. A single smallish room holds as many fabric swatches and detail options as you need to create a perfect suit, regardless of the occasion.
As Riley says, that perfect suit – in fact the perfect wardrobe full stop – is very much about what you take out, not what you add. “Be reductive,” he says. “Get the core things you need, and remember that you don’t need a lot. There’s no reason you can’t have a few beautiful, formative items – suits on which you spend time getting the details right so they are balanced and they behave properly. There’s a merit to putting in effort.”
That merit is partly borne out of respect. Riley takes pains to point out that caring about your appearance isn’t a matter of vanity, it’s about tradition – a good suit matters now because it has mattered in the past. It is the armour one dons to do business in, and attending to it shows a respect for both yourself and those you deal with.
Once their own tailors are trained, Johnson and Riley can be confident in their staff’s ability to pass some of that training on to their clients. “It’s a guided process,” Riley says of choosing a suit, and it’s clear that teaching people to build a business wardrobe is something he takes seriously.
Of course, this doesn’t mean every suit should look the same, or that you should feel you can’t use your suit to express yourself. “You can get away with more casual suiting in Australia. It’s about getting the context right for where we are,” Riley says. “The first stop is getting guys in suits again.”