Five Fits With: Patrick Johnson, Aussie Tailor Extraordinaire

Maybe you’ve read an interview with Patrick Johnson before (perhaps you even read one of mine), but like the clothing industry, and his namesake brand, the man is both constant and ever-changing. So too is his style. I’ve known Patrick for almost a decade and seen both the evolution (the clothes now fit more loosely) and the constancy (the core components remain the same). The man exudes confidence and elegance, and yet he’s anything but pretentious. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick during the height of #menswear on Tumblr, when I took a shot at having breakfast and doing an interview and was luckily met with a confirmation and an incredible morning.

I’m happy to bring his style and opinions to Esquire this time around. As we near a light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic, I wanted to talk to someone who’s been running a very successful business from half a world away in a country with strict lockdown measures. We discussed Patrick’s foundations in winemaking and how that informed operating a tailor shop, an average day in his life in Sydney, shifts in customer wants and needs over the course of the pandemic, losing vintage Cartier frames, and plenty more.

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

Esquire: I’m happy to be chatting with you again. We’ve covered this elsewhere, but can you tell me a bit about your time as a winemaker, and how that led you to Patrick Johnson the brand? Are there any parallels to be drawn between winemaking and operating a tailor shop?

Patrick Johnson: My time as a winemaker was brief, hence the change. There was nothing wrong with it, just not my primary calling. You stumble out of education trying to figure out what really drives you. Winemaking has its own aesthetic intrigues, and when you’re creatively motivated, many things call to you at that age. From that world, I learned about being quality-focused and the rigors of systems, methods, and processes. There is a tension between art and science in winemaking and in clothing. It’s a good thing.

Esquire: Your brand has grown a great deal. You also live in Australia, which is known for its strict Covid-19 policies through the pandemic. How has that lockdown affected you personally, and how did it affect P. Johnson Tailors? What sort of lessons did you learn operating a brand with an array of international moving parts?

PJ: After building this business to where it was, Covid was certainly daunting, there is no doubt. But I knew if we were patient and persistent we would get through it. We have an established group of clients who are very supportive and loyal, which we are enormously appreciative of. It gave me and the company a reflective break, to focus on new designs and better storytelling. Perhaps more than teaching us anything new, the pandemic instead solidified some prior learnings or truths about what people need, both within the business and within our clients, and where you put your eggs so to speak. Operating abroad, we learned a bit about how different governments are motivated; I won’t elaborate. I also learned my staff was fantastic, better than I could have hoped for.

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

Esquire: Walk me through an average day in the life of Patrick Johnson in Sydney.

PJ: It usually starts with my children. Arthur and/or Bunny rousing me, then some oats and coffee, breakfast for the kids, and some phone calls to other parts of the business. Kids drop off. Some exercise, usually some tennis coaching (that is, me getting coached). Then whatever the calendar has for me—design sessions, cloth sourcing, a little time with the team, finance with my business partner and CFO Rob, a little work with my wife Tamsin, or some other meetings with production teams, social teams, or organizing photoshoots and product shots. Sometimes a swim or playing with the kids, then dinner with the family or some entertaining or being entertained perhaps. Or, even better, reading. A few more evening calls to people on the other side of the planet and then putting the kids to bed. Hopefully loads of sleep. I will try to squeeze in a little meditation or a sauna where at all possible.

Esquire: You started your business with men’s made-to-measure, but you also expanded to women’s offerings, ready-to-wear products, and even a line of tennis garments. You also have multiple showrooms in New York, London, Sydney, and Melbourne. Can you tell me about how you came to expand your business internationally, and how you think P. Johnson has been able to transcend trends and geography to create a unified brand message, look, and feel?

PJ: Being Australian is a blessing. It certainly allows for you to be less affected when it comes to cultivating your patch. Here, we have the advantage of an external viewpoint on style and living—we can draw on the best from many places, and yet it is underpinned by a rather unique character. We have both irony and sincerity on our side. So when it comes to design we can distill down to things that are conveniently attached or detached to the old world as we see fit. This in itself has a purity or legitimacy to it, so it should naturally migrate comfortably to customers around the world.

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

Esquire: Speaking of made-to-measure and ready-to-wear, have you seen a shift in customer needs during the pandemic? What are the tenets of your ready-to-wear line, and what are some influences on both you and your brand more generally?

PJ: I have seen a shift to ready-to-wear from made-to-measure. It’s small but probably significant. But that shift shows me that people simply want to be involved with us, which is great. Made-to-measure has obvious benefits, but the most important one for me personally is its sustainability aspect. That also applies to our ready-to-wear. Drawing on my years of MTM experience gives me plenty of insight into what people really need from us. As always, it is those pure and elegant pieces that we will make in any number. These pieces to me still need to be highly “re-visitable” and treasurable. My stance on construction and value for money won’t change, and we have the insights of tailoring to draw on here. Suiting itself I think still needs to be custom, it is just too sensitive and the value isn’t really there when it is off the peg.

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

Esquire: What sort of advice do you think every guy should hear before going through a made-to-measure experience? What’s something you think a lot of guys get wrong when they’re doing made-to-measure?

PJ: Don’t stress, enjoy it, and trust the advice. The process is designed to build wardrobes carefully and thoughtfully regardless of how confident or not you are as a dresser. There is always something to be gained. Think about what central pieces might be most versatile and loved. Emotional purchases are thrilling but not always right. Hopefully, if you are in the right hands you can be, well, emotional—happy or joyful or ecstatic—and still purchase right. It should be fun.

Esquire: The day we shot this, it was freezing, and the day before that, it was 65 degrees. Can you tell me if there are some staples you believe every guy should have in his wardrobe, for both winter and for summer?

PJ: Underwear is a good start. Beyond that, “staples” will be different for everyone. One person’s black jeans are another person’s khaki chinos. So yes, there are staples for everyone, it’s just a case of tuning and refinement, and understanding what needs to go and what can be done better. Searching out the most tasteful and stylish outcome I think can be achieved for anyone in any season. People need different behaviors in their clothes depending on how they conduct their life and work. Maybe in winter, some version of a long coat is universal to most, along with the right knitwear, and in summer perhaps it is more to do with the shorts and trousers department. From there, the most appropriate top half can be executed. A jellaba or kurta might be a “staple” in hot places.

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

patrick johnson

Christopher Fenimore

Esquire: Are there any items you’re currently on the hunt for? What are you hoping to achieve in 2022?

PJ: I lost a beautiful pair of old gold Cartier frames over the break. I would love to replace them. It is so annoying losing beautiful things. I also misplaced my copy of the Villa Table by Lorenza di Medici. We moved and you know how it goes. I need to keep a better eye on my stuff. I also collect these drinking “smoke” glasses designed in 1960 by Joe Colombo for Riedel. I am always looking for more of those. As the name suggests they are designed so you can smoke and drink with the same hand at the same time. I don’t smoke but I do drink and I love the shape of these glasses. Apart from that, I have a second job as an assistant for my wife on her art and furniture buying trips across Europe, so I am always on the hunt for new and exciting pieces.

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