Last week I wrote an introductory overview on P. Johnson, the Australian made to measure (MTM) manufacturer, started by Patrick Johnson, which has now successfully expanded internationally.
Over the years, spending so much time around tailors and tailoring, my own style and preferences have gravitated firmly towards the relaxed and informal aesthetic which is the hallmark of Neapolitan tailoring. This is the style P. Johnson are best known for, that being lightweight, comfortable suiting, with a slim cut, soft shoulders, high waisted trousers and cuffed at the ankle. A fortnight ago I began the made to measure process with P. Johnson and the details are outlined below.
This is Matt Burns. Matt has great hair.
Matt and his hair drew the short short and got stuck with me for the duration of this process. Fortunately for me, Matt’s good fun to deal with, has been with P. Johnson for two and a half years and knows their system well, so the whole process was pretty straight forward.
The suit: The goal for the suit was to be light-weight and versatile. I wanted something in a fairly light grey. As a colour, it’s heavily under-utilised in suiting, which is strange, because it works so well with white, blue and pink shirts (the three most common shirt colours in men’s wardrobes). It also works with navy and darker shirts, which mid and dark grey do less effectively, with the whole outfit risking washing out into darkness.
I wanted cloth from Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC) which is my standard preference for anything I have made, simply because I know they’ll always have a cloth I’ll like, it’ll be well made and, most importantly, because the VBC family are just really nice people.
I’d hoped for something similar to my Ambrosi trousers (made from VBC Sharkskin). It’s my favourite cloth of anything I’ve had made, due to how light and airy it is and they’re the only wool trousers I can wear on a 40 degree day and still feel comfortable.
P. Johnson have a strong relationship with VBC, so after a quick flick through some swatches, we came up with pretty much exactly the cloth I had in mind. We also chose the lining and buttons, going for simple options, so they won’t stand out in their own right and will disappear into the background. The lining is a slightly darker grey than the suit and the buttons are a greyish buffalo horn.
Fitting: The fitting process is pretty straight forward. Being MTM and not bespoke (article explaining the difference between the two is here) you’re already starting from a more advanced position, in that trial trousers and jackets are pre-made in each size, meaning adjustments are made from standard garments, rather than making an entirely new garment from measurements alone. It actually makes a lot of sense, and if the trial garments are reasonable fits, then it’s even easier and the changes are factored in for the suit to be cut. Subsequent refinements are made in the following couple of fittings, hopefully arriving at an ideal fit by the end.
Trousers: P. Johnson have two cuts of stock trousers, designed for different postures (when standing naturally), hips forward or hips back. I’m hips forward, meaning that when I stand naturally, my hips push forward. Matt is the opposite, meaning that if we were the same or similar measurements, we’d be wearing trousers which have been cut differently to accommodate our postures.
The trousers will be cut to sit high on my waist, with a taper down to the ankle. A little more room was given in the seat, because a little more room is always given for my seat. We’ve gone for side adjusters instead of belt loops, to keep the look as clean as possible and I may end up having a waistcoat added later on, meaning belt loops would be redundant. The ankles will have a standard 4cm cuff.
I tried on the hips back cut at first and the fit was still decent, but the second pair, cut for my hips-forward posture fit better through the seat and thighs. The trial trousers are cut with more room than the standard P. Johnson silhouette because if they’re too tight it’s hard to know exactly how much to let out. If they’re more loosely fitted, you can accurately asses how much needs to come in.
Jacket: Turns out I fit the P. Johnson size 50 jacket pretty well, particularly through the shoulders, which are hardest to get right, so that was pretty fortunate. Unfortunately we didn’t get any decent images of the jacket (the camera struggled with the light in the fitting room) so we’ll make sure to cover that properly at the first fitting. The changes we did make we minimal, rotating the pitch of the sleeve to match my arms natural angle, balancing the shoulders to accommodate for a dropped shoulder and giving a bit more room in the seat again.
The jacket will have a full floating canvas (their lightest weight) and a thin layer of padding through the shoulders, just to give some structure. It’ll be made with patch pockets (including a breast patch pocket). Technically a suit like this should have flapped pockets, but I prefer the informality of patch pockets and sometimes I like to live life on the edge.
What can’t you do?: So the P. Johnson (and any quality) made to measure process bears many similarities to bespoke and being that the most important thing in any suit is how well it fits then MTM is a great option when done well, particularly in regards to value for money. Where the differences are (other than the main one of adjusting from standard garments, compared to starting from scratch) is really only in small ways. For example, I always have a fish symbol sewn somewhere into bespoke commissions. For my sport coat and overcoat from Bijan it was the last button hole on the cuffs. My Anna Matuozzo shirt had it on the bottom of the shirt front and my Nino Corvato trousers had it in place of a rear pocket. That’s not really an option here though. Initials can be sewn into the lining inside the jacket, but not a fish, it’s just not something they do. Sewing a fish button hole, also not an option. For other jackets, I’ve always had a smaller ticket pocket made to sit inside and slightly above my right patch pocket; can’t do that either.
Not being able to have those things included makes no discernible difference to the finished product and I’m not bothered if a couple of the “nice to haves” I’ve had made on bespoke commissions aren’t available here, particularly when I’m paying three times the price (and up) from any guality bespoke tailor.
Summary: Going back to my point from last weeks article, one of the best parts of the P. Johnson experience to date has been the atmosphere in the showroom. To date, no bespoke atelier has been able to compete with it for the energy and atmosphere that’s there. When we visited (Saturday morning) there were several other customers there (many with their wives) all talking to staff and either having fittings or sorting out details for a new suit. You don’t get that energy and sense of excitement with a bespoke atelier (at least none I’ve covered). That’s not so say I haven’t loved the tailors ateliers I’ve covered to date, because I have, but it’s a very different energy and environment; much more restrained and sober. My wife, Mehri, really noticed the difference and seeing the other wives and girlfriends scattered around the showroom, it’s obvious she wasn’t the only one and that’s been one of the unexpected benefits of the experience to date.
Pricing: The suit cost $2,200(AUD). More expensive cloths, like Loro Piana, push the price up to around $2,800.
All adjustments and details are covered in that cost. i.e. any details like monogramming, different buttons, lining etc incur no surcharge. Which is the smartest way to price anything for a male audience. No hidden extras or up-selling, just one price and anything you want (that they can do) is covered.
The suit is being made in Italy at the moment and I’ll go back in a few weeks, for the first fitting.