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Has This Man Found The Secret To Summer Suiting?

At his Sydney home, Australian tailor Mr Patrick Johnson introduces his exclusive line for MR PORTER

“Not a bad view, is it?” Mr Patrick Johnson sips a coffee on his glass-fronted balcony overlooking Tamarama, nicknamed Glamarama by Sydneysiders, one of the world’s most picturesque city beaches. “I run down for a swim most mornings,” says the 37-year-old Australian tailor. The sand is less than 150m away. “There’s no better way to start the day.”

Mr Johnson and his interior designer wife, Ms Tamsin Johnson, are putting the finishing touches to this light and airy beach house they bought shortly after returning to Sydney following a stint in New York, ahead of the birth of their now one-year-old son. “Tam actually sketched the design for the house while she was in bed the day after Arthur was born,” he says.

  • From left: artwork by Mr Luke Sciberras, Ms Saskia Folk, Ms Kirsty Budge, Mr Noah Taylor, Mr Daidō Moriyama, Mr Jack Slattery

His wife has also designed all of P Johnson’s showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York. Each one is a reflection of Mr Johnson’s signature style of understated, elegant yet comfortable tailoring, which launched on MR PORTER this week with an exclusive ready-to-wear collection. And they are all calm and contemplative spaces – Mr Johnson encourages everyone who works for him (including Hector, the family's docile British bulldog) to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. “I’m very lucky to work with my wife,” he says. “We have a very similar aesthetic.”

The first time I met Mr Johnson, he explained how all good tailors have to be intuitive. To illustrate his point he looked me up and down and told me my height, chest, waist and leg measurements. He could see that one shoulder is slightly lower than the other. He explained what would work with my colouring and my frame and then told me what kind of suit I should wear – prescriptive advice packaged in a warm and disarmingly charming way.

Despite the flair and intuition, Mr Johnson initially trained to do something rather different. “Growing up in South Australia, you either become a doctor, a lawyer or a winemaker,” he says. “I’m chronically dyslexic, so winemaker it was.” However, after studying oenology – the science of wine – for four years, he had a freak chemical accident one day while working at a vineyard and ended up with sulphur dioxide poisoning. “You put sulphur dioxide in wine to help prevent oxygenation and microbial spoilage, but after my accident I ended up developing a strong allergy to it, which ultimately meant I needed to find something else to do for a living,” he says. It sounds like a superhero’s origin story.

Mr Johnson’s early appreciation for tailoring can be attributed to his stepfather. “He was a fantastic dresser, still is, and he’s very English in the way he dresses, which is quite funny in rural South Australia,” says Mr Johnson. “He has all his suits made on Savile Row at Henry Poole. I used to go into his dressing room when I was a kid, which was absolutely phenomenal. It was like The Great Gatsby – his shoes all lined up, everything perfect. I’d sneak in and move a shoe and he’d come down an hour later and say, ‘Who’s been in my dressing room?’”

  • “On The Grindle’s Hut Ground” by Mr Luke Sciberras

Mr Johnson grew up on a 4,000-hectare sheep farm near Adelaide and favours merino wool – so much so that he’s won a Woolmark Prize for his innovation with the fabric. “I believe around 83 or 84 per cent of the world’s merino comes from Australia,” he says. “But the reason I like it is because it behaves incredibly well. Cashmere is beautiful, but we all know it doesn’t last that long. If you’re buying an investment piece like a suit, merino really stands the test of time. It’s also extremely versatile. It can be heavyweight for winter or incredibly soft and light for summer.”

Over the past decade, P Johnson has developed a distinctive style of tailoring that is softer, lighter and more comfortable than most British or Italian constructions. “This is a necessity in warmer climates, but it also suits the man who is looking for comfort, softness, flex and versatility – not words often associated with tailoring,” he says. In doing this, Mr Johnson has arguably created Australian tailoring, a term that only a few years ago might have been considered an oxymoron.

“Obviously, Australia doesn’t have a rich heritage of tailoring, but I see that as an advantage,” says Mr Johnson. “I’m not in any way handicapped by history and tradition, so I can take the best of Italy, the best of Britain, the best of Asia and reinterpret it in a fresh new way. The world has changed a lot in the past 100 years, even in the past five years. But tailoring hasn’t really changed that much. I think it should, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Mr Johnson believes he has filled a yawning gap in the smart market: suits you can wear in the heat. And he is a good fit-model for his own creations. His completely unstructured jackets with their “shirt-finish” shoulders are deceptively labour-intensive due to there being “nothing to hide” – every internal seam is on display and so is as finely finished as every external seam. “This construction is one of the things that sets us apart,” he says. “Some of these pieces feel so light and easy,” he says of the MR PORTER collection. “They’re as comfortable as wearing a pair of pyjamas.”

  • “School Chair” by Mr Pierre Jeanneret

  • In background, 18th-century Flemish tapestry

“We worked with Patrick to put together a collection that showcases what P Johnson does best,” says MR PORTER Buying Manager Mr Sam Kershaw. It comprises single- and double-breasted suits, linen shirts, long-sleeve merino T-shirts and polo shirts, drawstring trousers, a mid-blue basket-weave blazer and a cream evening jacket. “It’s all beautifully made, lightweight and versatile, perfect for the man who lives in or travels to warm places. It can be dressed up or down, worn as suits or separates. Plus it’s very well priced.”

A key reason for this is that P Johnson now owns its Italian workshop, Sartoria Carrara, in Tuscany. “We are able to control the entire production process from start to finish with no middle man, so our tailoring is extremely good value,” says Mr Johnson. “Each garment is made with skill, pride and care by craftspeople we know personally. It is the very antithesis of mass production.”

At first, you wouldn’t think there would be a great deal of common ground between making wine and making suits. But both require a similar sensibility, an appreciation of quality and an understanding of subtle nuance. “And both appeal to those who enjoy the finer things in life,” says Mr Johnson. Cheers to that.