Regardless of the year, the generation, the culture, or the gentleman himself, a man who is well dressed rarely goes unnoticed. While at first glance, there may be nothing remarkable about his appearance, there’s still something that catches your eye. It comes down to the beauty of detail – the carefully stitched button holes, a jacket tailored with care, a fabric selected after hours of rumination, matched with the perfect thread and machined in a way that will make it sit just right. But the true secret to his style is not something that can be purchased; rather, it’s that certain confidence that comes with wearing something that is tailored perfectly to your body shape and that embodies your individual style. Bringing that well-dressed confidence back to the gentlemen of Brisbane are Andrew Byrne and Josh McPherson – the modern-day tailors behind the clandestine sartorial nook known simply as The Cloakroom.
The legend of The Cloakroom does not begin where one might think. Andrew and Josh, its dapper 28-year- old proprietors, did not come from a long line of tailors, nor did they harbour childhood dreams of becoming fashion designers. It was during a university course in town planning at QUT that Andrew and Josh first encountered each other. At the time, Andrew’s imagination was occupied with the beginnings of a magazine he had started, while Josh was on the verge of changing his studies to industrial design. Admittedly, in those days, while they were well acquainted, they spent very little time together. It wasn’t until five years later that the two encountered each other once more. Andrew had spent the past few years, interlaced with various overseas wanderings, testing the waters of the media and consulting industries. When he fortuitously happened upon Josh, who was working for furniture design group Poliform, Andrew’s imagination was once again occupied. This time, it was with Pistols At Dawn – a bespoke shirt business that catered to young businessmen who were looking for well-tailored shirts to wear to work. “I saw that there was nothing in Brisbane that was personal service or that was tailored,” Andrew explains of what first inspired him to create the business. “People whinge about the kind of retail experiences that they have – they come into a shop and no one says hello to them and they feel uncomfortable if they don’t spend money. I saw the opportunity to create something different from that.”
It took little to convince Josh, who had already given notice in his current job, to jump on board the venture. Soon the two entrepreneurs were dreaming up the contents of their first sartorial collection, which they took on the road to Sydney and Melbourne with a prospect of wholesaling. But after months of lugging suit bags between airports, only to have doors consistently slammed in their faces, Andrew and Josh were forced to change tack. “It was discouraging because people weren’t very open to the concept of us having these shirts and jackets in their shop,” Josh recalls. “But what we did come to realise was that, after all we’d seen in the shops, we actually had a pretty good product. So why not cut out the middleman and be the person who’s selling it as well as creating it?”
From there arose the task of finding a space that would not only allow them to sell their wares, but that would also embody the old-world aesthetic of bespoke tailoring that had first inspired the venture. They found it in a place where few would care to look, in the maze-like passageways of the historic NAB building in Queen Street Mall. The circa-1890 bureau-esque space, the boys admit, was not at its finest when they initially came across it. “It was pretty dingy at first,” laughs Josh. “We spent a lot of late nights painting, cleaning and building racks but it was all good fun.”
The fruits of their nocturnal labour, what is now The Cloakroom, is a charming mercantile nook reminiscent of those in the 1920s and 1930s, where debonair gentlemen could spend hours being fitted with a suit that would last them a lifetime. A glance around the cosy locale immediately gleans the fact that, for Andrew and Josh, the beauty is truly in the finer details. It’s the offer of a seat and a glass of sparkling water to all those who enter. The bottle of Glenfiddich that sits alongside one of champagne, for those moments when a toast is inevitably in order. The vase of fresh flowers, the delicate scent of which playfully dallies with that of the Diptyque candle flickering nearby. The frames of curiously selected works that adorn the walls and the collection of well-worn tape measures draped with care over an aged doorknob. Not to mention the racks of meticulously hung racks of finely tailored garments that line one of the walls.
“We like the space because people really respond well to it,” explains Josh. “We’re touching that client who is looking for something unique and who doesn’t like to be marketed at. Once they come in, they tell somebody else. Gaining clientele from word of mouth is rewarding, especially when people come in who have heard about The Cloakroom and are interested in fashion but haven’t had an outlet for it. You can’t really compare us to the older tailors around town who are cutting suits for Tattersalls members,” he smiles.
For two guys with no formal training in fashion, earning such a steadfast reputation is quite a feat. “I think it’s actually been a benefit for us, not coming from a fashion background,” Josh proffers. “We don’t have the technical terms and we’ve learned along the way what things like an action pleat and a billow pocket really look like. I think not having any formal training meant that we had to focus a little bit harder on getting what we wanted, rather than taking for granted that we’d studied it and could physically make it ourselves.”
Even now, despite being invited to develop a collection for the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival, Andrew and Josh are loath to call themselves fashion designers. Instead, they prefer to simply be known as purveyors of impeccable service who ensure that their clientele – ranging from urban dandies to sharp-suited businessman – receive the best possible quality in all aspects of their product. They continue to enjoy a trusting relationship with a tailor in Hong Kong, with whom Andrew has collaborated since the early stages of Pistols of Dawn, but eventually aim to establish a local operation that allows them the luxury of overseeing all production. “It’s been a real work in progress to get a shape that we’re happy with and to get all the small details to be the same every time,” muses Josh. “The biggest challenge is that, because we’re so small, asking someone in a factory to produce it – people just won’t do it. That’s been difficult for us, but I’m still always on the hunt for somebody who can produce it locally. I like to go and sit with somebody and, while I’m not the artisan, I know how it should look for my client.”
A discerning eye for detail is a trait that is common to both Andrew and Josh and, while their individual tastes may differ, they do agree on the irrefutable element of true style – confidence. “It’s a really personal thing and you have to know yourself to have a style,” says Josh. “I think that it’s a particular look that you are not necessarily recognised for, but that you ‘own’ each item to a degree – not just because you bought it but because you acknowledge that it suits you and your personality. We get guys who come in and are unsure of what they want but they need something, so we try and ask the right questions,” he explains. “It’s rewarding seeing those guys go through a bit of a process,” Andrew agrees. “When their jacket comes in and they jump in front of the mirror, they get a surprise at how they look and they start to own it a little bit.” It is in moments such as these, seeing the power of their product and the positive change that it brings to people, that the boys find their inspiration. They also cite the entrepreneurial stories of people such as Dennis Paphitis of Aesop and Amanda Briskin of Mimco, and the timeless style of Michael Caine, as inspiration, but what drives Andrew and Josh most is the reality of having to sustain the growth of their own business.
“We’re both realists, and it’s easy to get ahead of yourself in this industry,” Andrew states matter-of- factly. “We don’t have an investor who is tipping money into the business, so we have to keep ourselves in check and try to be smart about it.” Both agree that facing the challenges together is key to their success. “It’s sharing in the hardships and successes that you have along the way, so that you’ve got someone else who can look you in the eye and know what you’re talking about,” says Andrew. “And to hold you accountable,” Josh chimes in. “Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed, but you just have to know that you have the ability to change things and that you’re in complete control. Anybody has the power to change something and sometimes it’s about just making it happen.”