The Aussie aiming to become 'the best tailor in the world'
Carrara is synonymous with the revered white marble that comprises much of the Tuscan alpine range known as the Apuane. The jagged, quarried peaks appear snow-capped on a hazy summer day, and the renowned stone also exerts a profound cultural influence.
Carrara and its marble have been a crucible for arts and culture. Michelangelo chiselled his masterwork David from a slab of “marmo” from his personal quarry in nearby Pietrasanta. Great monuments from the Pantheon in Rome to London’s Marble Arch have also been sculpted from the precious alabaster stone.
Less well-known is Carrara’s significance to modern Italian tailoring and artisanal luxury. The region’s tailoring ateliers were pivotal in developing the su misura systems that made traditionally constructed, handmade suits accessible beyond the bespoke ateliers of Europe. The su misura way of working allowed artisan tailors to adapt their ancient art to small, efficient workshops.
“Everyone in the workshop knows how to make a suit by hand from start to finish, yet they also know how to make an artisanal product in the most efficient way possible,” says Sydney tailor Patrick Johnson.
The founder of P.Johnson tailoring was so impressed with Carrara craftsmanship that he bought the factory. Literally. Earlier this year, Johnson acquired an historic workshop in Pietrasanta, preserving and celebrating local skills. The workshop will be fully dedicated to producing menswear for Australia’s pre-eminent suit maker.
“The skill set they have requires patience, time and a true love of the craft,” says Johnson. “Most of the Italians in the workshop have come from the same family or group of families for generations and we want to continue that.”
In celebration of the partnership, P.Johnson has introduced Sartoria Carrara, a new addition to its men’s tailoring and casualwear that celebrates the unique suiting of the Tuscan region. This custom tailoring collection pays tribute to its Italian forefathers, but with a cleaner, more understated approach that remains true to Johnson’s Australian roots. “The workers in Carrara had amazing skills, but they didn’t have the orders and reliability coming through, so we’ve been able to give them that investment,” says Johnson.
“Their technical ability will allow us to realise our vision of creating the best luxurious clothes, handmade in Italy, but with a good measure of Australian authenticity and ease.”
The cloth and cut of Sartoria Carrara is luxurious, yet natural and comfortable. Not uptight or stiff, but a fresh and relaxed hybrid of Neapolitan tailoring and the country where Johnson was born and raised.
“With the tailoring we do there is nothing to hide behind,” he says. “We simply offer a beautiful handmade suit with a design language that reflects the natural environment I grew up in. It’s about a minimal, flexible wardrobe with nothing unnecessary, but everything that is essential.”
Since founding his business with that philosophy in 2008, Johnson has carved out a global reputation for his signature style of suiting that is softer, lighter and more comfortable than most British or Italian iterations. Having established successful flagships in Sydney, Melbourne and New York, the Adelaide-born businessman also operates trunk shows and fitting rooms around Australia and in Singapore, Jakarta and London. “When we started, our business goal was to make Australian men better dressed,” he says. “Now it’s just to be the best tailor in the world.” Johnson trained as a winemaker until a freak chemical accident while working at a vineyard led to sulphur dioxide poisoning and a change of career path. He studied fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins College before joining esteemed shirtmaker Robert Emmett on Jermyn Street, Mayfair, then returning to Sydney to set up P.Johnson.
“In our Carrara workshop, I am beginning to be able to tell which tailor sewed on an individual button hole,” says Johnson. “I love beautiful handmade clothing and I want to save that tradition, but this also about the pursuit of excellence.
“Right now that workshop is very good. But in two or three years, it will make the best suits in Italy.”