Of Desire: An Interview with Joshua Kane

Having cut his teeth at designer houses such as Paul Smith, Burberry Prorsum, and Jaeger, Joshua Kane now works as a bespoke designer and tailor for his namesake label.

Somehow – between the loincloth and the Levi’s – modern fashion became the primary currency in the desirability olympics, despite being a paradox of mass-produced anonymity and individualism-driven marketing. Thus the unique space Joshua Kane belongs in.

Kane is an interesting man to speak to about the state of identity, authenticity, and desire in fashion because his specialty is the suit: simultaneously the epitome of uniform and yet – with the evolution of decorum – becoming more personalized than ever before to who we are and what we want of ourselves.

Could you tell me a little bit about your process – in getting to know a client, and discerning what they want?

I have a routine, but it very much depends on the person. I’m fortunate enough to dress a lot of strange individuals who are characters themselves. If they come to me to get something made, they’re already a little bit out of the ordinary, which is perfect. That’s how I like it; the weirder the character, the better.

Whether they’re an A-list celebrity or someone who has never had a bespoke suit before, the most important thing to do is research. I tailor my approach – excuse the pun – for each person. It’ll be a case of knowing who they are, what they do; if they’re in the public eye, what they’ve worn before to events. Through that, you can judge what they like or dislike: colors, cuts, what their reference points are. Even if it’s not someone in the public eye, you can look at pictures on Facebook and tell what their aesthetic is. And then it’s a process of question and answer about favorite colors, or items; like a favorite shirt they had from before in a particular shade of teal blue. Things that have hidden details, that reference who they are. It’s not formal in anyway whatsoever.

Are there certain tailoring details or fabric choices that you feel speak to certain personality traits?

I look at it as personal designing as much as tailoring, because it’s about designing a series of garments that have them in mind. It’s not just about fit; it’s about what will suit or flatter them in terms of color, texture, and proportion. It’s not about saying, “Oh, he’s wearing Joshua Kane, obviously.” It’s about, “Wow, he looks really good in that.”

I’d imagine it would be hard for people to think about what they want in piece of clothing, when relevance to fashion trends or occasion is no longer a factor. I think a lot of people would struggle to articulate it.

That’s why I try to do it in a more informal way. I get the answer without actually being given it. To me, it’s about finding out what someone likes without being told. It’s my profession; I know more about it than them. It’s about finding out what they want and giving them the options.

I have references as well, such as things I’ve made years ago that I have in my archives. I’ll ask them to try it on and tell me how they feel. It’s very three-dimensional and very interactive: draping fabric across someone’s sleeve, looking into three different mirrors, putting them in different light, seeing how it moves, seeing how they feel. And I think I know before they open their mouth anyway. It’s in the body language, in their eyes, in their facial expressions.

The way you react to your reflection in the mirror when you have a world of sartorial possibilities in front of you – it must shine your usual preferences and desires in a very different light.

I talk about it as an experience. Even in development – when I’m starting to make something and I’m hand-stitching something on the stand – people have started requesting photos. They want to be a part of the experience, even if it’s one o’clock in the morning and I’m working in the studio on my own. They love the experience of seeing it coming together for them. Receiving that photo makes them feel like they’re a part of this garment being born.

As a primarily menswear tailor and designer, are gender binaries at all relevant to your bespoke tailoring and designing?

A course tutor once told me: when everyone wakes up in the morning, it’s about being desirable and looking good. That desire could change, but the bulk of it means you want to feel sexy whether you’re a guy or a girl. In the back of my mind, I don’t like to think of it differently. There’s no one industry in the world where people wake up and partake in it first thing in the morning.

To read the rest of the interview, pick up a print or digital copy of the Desire issue of MISC.

the author

Caroline Leung