I'm looking for a suit that fits. After years of subscribing to the 'it'll do' school of off-the-rack suiting, I need at least one outfit that's made just for my 192 centimetre, 110 kilogram frame (give or take).
I'm told Patrick Johnson provides one of the best fits in the country. The Australian ex-winemaker and his team have enjoyed a particular rise to prominence recently, launching a ready-to-wear capsule collection for international retailer Mr Porter in July this year and strengthening outposts in the US and UK.
The brand is known as P Johnson Tailors, or PJT, despite the fact that Johnson is not a tailor in the traditional sense. Rather than sewing his own designs, he offers made-to-measure (M2M) suits, carefully measuring customers in his sleek showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York, before sending off the numbers to a factory in Carrara, Italy.
It's by no means a quick process, with the average P Johnson suit taking around six weeks – sometimes longer, during the European summer – from initial consultation to final fitting. So shotgun weddings need not apply.
Language of style
Tailoring can be a very particular business. Mr Johnson was recently inspired to defend his business strategy after a UK blogger criticised the brand for 'misleading' customers, claiming some items had been made in China and elsewhere in the past (shock horror).
"We decided to move P Johnson to produce wholly made-in-Italy tailoring, with the [cheaper secondary label] Suit Shop brand to be made in China," Johnson explained.
"Our goal is to produce a beautiful garment made by artisans, that has a significant amount of handwork, but at the best possible value at the price point ... We are not trying and have never claimed to be bespoke or fully handmade across our business."
In the world of bespoke and M2M, terminology matters: origin, location, workmanship. Yet P Johnson prides itself on being relatively affordable, with a jacket/pant combo setting you back around $2500, far more achievable than a Savile Row original (which is more like $10,000).
When I arrive at the brand's grand Windsor showroom, I feel like I'm in the wrong place. It looks more like a house than a shop, on a quiet backstreet away from the Chapel Street grind.
I ring the doorbell and an embossed gate swings back to reveal a seriously stylish dude in a sun-lit entrance hall designed by Johnson's partner, Tamsin Johnson – whose antique-dealer father Edward Clark once lived here.
This is Tom Riley, Johnson's right hand man. Johnson is in New York this week, or maybe Sydney, I never actually meet him. But Riley – who first met Johnson studying viticulture in Adelaide before launching the brand a decade ago – is more than up to the task of kitting me out.
Riley has the gift of the gab when it comes to explaining the complexities of suiting as we stroll through airy rooms lined with crisp trousers and soft, unstructured jackets in neutral tones. The PJT style is not about dressing for 'an occasion', Riley says.
You don't buy a suit for a wedding and squeeze into it twice a year. Truly stylish gents build their personal style with a series of timeless, high-quality pieces that can take you from the boardroom to a BBQ.
Riley leads me to the showroom's inner sanctum, a vast sitting room where I sink into an overstuffed couch surrounded by piles of art books and graphic prints, to select my fabrics and style.
We settle on a classic jacket and pants, simple separates. The jacket will be an unstructured, two-button, unlined, hand-stitched garment in navy blue wool, matched with a pair of cuffed, pleated, relaxed-fit trousers in dusty blue-grey felt.
Then comes the measuring. I climb the staircase and into a private fitting room kitted with polished mirrors. For a good 45 minutes, Riley buzzes around me with a tape measure, noting seams and lengths across back and leg and shoulder. I hold my breath: it's an alarmingly personal service, but like a massage or the dentist, just as beneficial for my health.
Then we're done, and there's nothing to do but wait.
The big reveal
It's a grey work day nine weeks later when I get an email from Riley. 'Your gear!' reads the subject line.
It's taken longer than they thought, and Riley apologies profusely. "I'm sorry mate, we're experiencing serious bottleneck due to unforeseen demand out of NY and LON, a lot more growth than we accounted for a little old workshop!" he writes. It's not a problem, quality takes time after all.
I'm a bit excited when I return to the showroom to try on the gear. I've long forgotten the detail of the fabrics or the cut of the pants. My main concern is that the two month wait has landed over a particularly chilly winter, where I discovered a new enthusiasm for Japanese curry. Would everything still fit?
Riley, affable as always, leads me back to the dressing room. I step into the trousers; they are more formal and a wider leg than I'm used to, somewhere between chinos and suit pants, in heavenly soft fabric. They fit, just. "They should relax a bit as you wear them," Riley says. "But we can adjust them if you need …"
At this point I'm so happy to have them, I'm not about to hand them over again. I put on the jacket, the main event, and feel instantly relaxed. The lapel drapes just so, the cuffs reach the perfect point of my hand, shoulders easy but not sloppy. It feels like I'm wearing a cardigan, but looks like I'm about to go to an awards ceremony. I love it. I farewell Riley at the door and it's like saying goodbye to a therapist.
In the following weeks, I barely take the jacket off. Finally, a suit that fits.
The writer was a guest of P Johnson.