Well Worn
Patrick Johnson’s Denim Shirts
By Aleks Cvetkovic
back to all articles

A passion for winemaking seems to be a running theme when it comes to Thomas Mason collaborators, and like all the best designers, Patrick Johnson never really intended to work in menswear.

“I majored in oenology, and didn’t ever think I’d have a career in clothing,” he says as we sit together on a Zoom call during a grey London morning and balmy evening in Sydney, Australia. Patrick is relaxing on his balcony with a cup of tea, leaning into the camera in a relaxed fashion, wearing (appropriately) a washed denim shirt. He looks every bit a man at ease.

“As a kid, science and numbers made sense to me,” he continues, “so I studied agricultural science before specialising in winemaking. It was a fantastic degree, but it turned out that being a winemaker wasn’t for me. I think I’d maybe have been a good winemaker, but not a great one.”

An impromptu trip to visit his brother, who at the time was studying at Cambridge University, set Patrick on a different course. Keen on spending more time in the UK, he applied for a post-graduate degree at Central St Martin’s art school in London. It was there that he caught the clothing bug, care of for a part-time role at shirtmaker Emmett London, where Robert Emmett took him under his wing. “He was a really great mentor,” Patrick says, wistfully. “I was with him till I was 27-years-old, and living in London for all that time was incredible.”

But, all good things must come to an end. As he turned 28, Patrick met his wife and decided it was time to head back to Australia, which posed the question of what to do next. “I didn’t even know you could do this for a job back home,” he says, “men weren’t really dressing in Australia at the time, and there wasn’t much of a tailoring culture. Even so, I didn’t want to stop working with clothes so I took a punt, set myself up as a travelling tailor and we just grew from there.”

That was in 2009. Skip forward to today, and said punt has well and truly paid off. P. Johnson has an international reputation, stores in London and New York, as well as Sydney and Melbourne, a hugely loyal client base and a cult following. The brand’s secret, if there is one, is simply to make tailoring that’s not shackled by the lumpen bonds of heritage. Patrick spent years eyeballing Savile Row’s shop windows, but decided to do his own thing with P. Johnson.

“Coming back to the Australia thing; I always say that the greatest thing about being Australian is that I understand I’m a country bumpkin, I’m not in the centre of the world,” he jokes. “Coming back to Australia offered me a clean slate to create a look that was a bit softer and a bit sportier. It was a real blessing to feel free from the rules, so to speak.”

You can see this sense of freedom both in PJT’s fresh styling (see any of the brand’s recent campaigns or look books) and in the construction of the tailoring itself. Originally, Patrick wanted to make his suits domestically, but simply couldn’t find a factory that could do what he needed in Australia. The solution, naturally, was to recourse to an Italian workshop. Today, P. Johnson owns Sartoria Carrara, a Tuscan atelier staffed by 65 talented craftspeople, who make the majority of PJT’s made-to-measure tailoring (there are two other services available, both made in Shanghai), combining traditional hand-work with Patrick’s modern tastes. Whether in drapey fresco, weather-beaten brushed cotton or breezy linen, P. Johnson suiting feels reassuringly relevant and just relaxed enough.

Which brings us neatly to Patrick’s denim shirts. P. Johnson was something of an early adopter of denim dress shirts, and they’ve been an important part of the PJT wheelhouse ever since – although Patrick is modest enough to make light of this. “I remember when we first started doing denim shirts, denim shirts with tailoring was quite a new look. We sold so many, new customers started saying ‘Oh, you’re the denim shirt guy,’ to which I’d say, ‘actually mate, I think there was a guy called Ralph Lauren who did that a while back.’ It used to make me laugh.”

Nevertheless, denim shirts have been a keystone of Patrick’s look for years, and he always makes them in Thomas Mason denim. “I’ve worked with Thomas Mason since I started at Emmett in 2002; Mr Albini was still alive back then and I remember he took Robert and me to La Scala when it had just reopened, and I never really forgot that.

“When I started P. Johnson 12 years ago, Thomas Mason became our core line for shirtings. I have several Thomas Mason denim shirts in my own wardrobe, and I think I’m on the fifth or sixth iteration of some of them. I like one-piece collar shirts; I’ll wear them till they’re on their last legs and then remove the collars and change them to stand-collar shirts.” P. Johnson also makes its tunics in Thomas Mason denims too. Patrick favours the Brisbane quality for these and Victoria for denim shirts that are slightly dressier. “To me, you should go on a journey with your clothes, and the way denim softens and fades lets you really be a part of that,” he explains.

The respect Patrick’s shows his own well-worn shirts belies his philosophy on style more generally, and speaks to just why his brand is so well respected.

"We have a saying in P. Johnson, ‘live slow and die old,’. Just slow down; you want to be here for a very long time. Don’t rush into things – instead of buying two cheap shirts, just buy the one good one. Clothes should be a really valuable part of your life. Invest a little bit more in something beautiful, or frankly, don’t bother.”
— Patrick Johnson

Shop P. Johnson’s ready-to-wear collection at pjt.com, or book an appointment to discuss a made-to-measure order.

 

(Photography by Natalie Jurrjens)

Related Articles
last podcast
all podcasts