He’s the clown pimp – and most pow­er­ful Aus­tralian – in lux­ury fash­ion. Bet­ter yet, he’s putting men back into menswear.


Aus­tralian de­signer Justin O’shea on what it means to be a mod­ern man.

Justin O’shea is the phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of the egal­i­tar­i­an­ism that’s sweep­ing though the lux­ury houses. ‘Ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury’ – sure, it’s a buzz­word. Hell, it’s ar­guably an oxy­moron, but it’s also a sar­to­rial con­cept cen­tral to the con­tem­po­rary out­look of top-tier brands col­lec­tively push­ing broader than ever be­fore. Look at Kenzo – which, in 2011, started to re­po­si­tion (read: ex­plore a wider range of price points) un­der the cre­ative ste­ward­ship of Open­ing Cer­e­mony cool kids Hum­berto Leon and Carol Lim. Then there’s Louis Vuit­ton’s in­stal­la­tion of Kim Jones and his an­nounce­ment of a new line of men’s denim a few months back. And now Bri­oni, a once-staid Ital­ian outfitter, which, un­der the cre­ative di­rec­tion of O’shea (the suited and bearded Aus­tralian who walks with a pimp’s swag­ger and swears like a wharfie) de­buted a col­lec­tion that fea­tured, along­side $9000 suits, the likes of “wife beat­ers” – his words. See, that’s the thing about this 37-year-old from Nhu­lun­buy in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory – he’s real. Un­af­fected. The ul­ti­mate ac­ces­si­ble gate­keeper to a lux­ury la­bel; a wellestab­lished ‘street style star’ with a mar­ketable fol­low­ing far re­moved from the but­toned-up, de­signer Bel­gians who spend week­ends es­pous­ing, at some con­sid­er­able length, the im­por­tance of 17th cen­tury sculp­ture. Not O’shea – he’s the man who, within min­utes of talk­ing to GQ, is out­ing a fond­ness for a solid night of beer and shenani­gans with the “boys”; the same man who an­nounced his ar­rival on the scene by un­veil­ing rock­ers Metallica as the faces of Bri­oni’s new di­rec­tion. “Look, we’re high suit­ing, [but] we should also have stuff that’s just fuck­ing cool, things that any­one can buy – yeah, that’s what I wanted to bring to the brand,” chimes O’shea, in elevated tones that be­lie his ‘slick biker’ look. “You know, we’re at a level that’s more exclusive than a lot of other brands, but you also need to bring in more ac­ces­si­bil­ity among the ul­ti­mate in lux­ury... “Mod­ern guys, you know, with the dig­i­tal age and ecom­merce and so­cial me­dia, it’s given them the abil­ity to know a lot more about fash­ion, to know what their style is and to know what’s avail­able. And I know that mod­ern guys can go and buy a $15 fuck­ing Uniqlo or Bonds T-shirt and wear it with a $10,000 suit and that’s to­tally fuck­ing awe­some, be­cause you don’t need ex­pen­sive stuff with ex­pen­sive stuff.” It plays into his use of Metallica – an un­con­ven­tional move and one met by a mixed cho­rus of sup­port and sur­prise, but again it de­liv­ers a broad slap. “There’s not one dude who doesn’t want to sit in a pub and have a beer with these guys, not one,” says O’shea. “They’re the ul­ti­mate bad ar­ses; they ap­peal to a 70-year-old who’s loved them since he was 40, and then there’s the 18-year-old who loves them be­cause they’re fuck­ing rock gods. There aren’t too many su­per­stars who have that kind of ap­peal.” Talk of the Metallica cam­paign – which also dis­played Bri­oni’s re­turn to a Gothic font for its logo, some­thing O’shea dragged from the ar­chives and which was used by the Ital­ian tai­lors be­tween the 1950s and ’70s – prompts a cou­ple of ques­tions. How the hell did he ex­plain ‘wife beater’ to his new bosses? “You’re right, the trans­la­tion wasn’t too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. I was just like, ‘Don’t fuck­ing worry, it’s a fuck­ing Aus­tralian thing, it’s a fuck­ing tank top.’” And what was the ini­tial re­sponse from François-henri Pin­ault (CEO of Ker­ing, which bought Bri­oni in 2012) about us­ing Metallica to sell lux­ury fash­ion? “I pre­sented [the cam­paign] in these big gold frames like you do gold records, and I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self, ‘Well, he’s ei­ther go­ing to say two things – ‘You’re fired,’ or ‘I love it.’’ And you know what? He was just like, ‘That’s awe­some – what’s your favourite Metallica song? I need to start a new Spo­tify playlist.’ Oh, and then he said he needed to be sat next to them at the show.” O’shea ad­mits nerves ahead of that first col­lec­tion in Paris in July. He also ad­mits it wasn’t so much Metallica, as fel­low ’70s rock­ers Bos­ton, who helped him re­lax. “I was lis­ten­ing to them so much in the two weeks of show prepa­ra­tion. Every time I’d get in the car, I was so tired and so fuck­ing stressed out. I’d play that and scream it fuck­ing out, ‘It’s more than a feeeeel­ing – more than a FEEEEEL­ING...’ Yeah, that got me through.”

“They thought ‘wife beat­ers’ wasn’t all that po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. I said, ‘Don’t fuck­ing worry, it’s an Aus­tralian fuck­ing thing.’”

O’Shea was born in Toowoomba and raised, for the most part, in Nhu­lun­buy in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory – a re­mote baux­ite min­ing com­mu­nity, closer to Pa­pua New Guinea than the key Aus­tralian cap­i­tals. “No one knows where the fuck it is – I just tend to tell peo­ple in Europe I’m from Sydney. But it’s a peace­ful place, peo­ple are re­laxed, they leave their doors open and there aren’t many wor­ries. I loved it – even though at the time, I’d dream of liv­ing some­where that had a fuck­ing Mcdon­ald’s – yeah, that was the thing I as­pired to back then.” Be­yond rid­ing dirt bikes and “get­ting drunk on the school oval,” teen years meant run­ning about on vary­ing sport­ing fields – O’shea gifted at rugby league, AFL, hockey and bas­ket­ball. Each of­fered a chance to travel – es­pe­cially given he was, by his late teens, play­ing at a rep­re­sen­ta­tive level. O’shea ad­mits there was never re­ally a firm plan for life – and it’s an ap­proach that’s worked. It saw him leave Perth, where he was chas­ing an Olympic hockey dream, for Am­s­ter­dam at 23, to run a re­tail sports store. “De­spite pop­u­lar think­ing, I’m not a pot head, so I wasn’t wasted all the time – it’s the one thing I didn’t do among all the other stuff. I still man­aged to find some good times and have some fun, but I also found a good set of Dutch friends, went to Dutch lan­guage school and was do­ing OK at that and felt like I was ac­tu­ally liv­ing there. It was re­ally cool to be part of an­other cul­ture.” After a stint in the Mid­dle East (with Kuwaiti re­tailer Al Os­toura) he re­turned to Lon­don and even­tu­ally moved to then-new ecom­merce fash­ion start-up, My Theresa, as a buy­ing di­rec­tor. There for seven years, O’shea says it taught him about pro­fes­sion­al­ism, work ethic and “look­ing at fash­ion in a dif­fer­ent way; look­ing at ev­ery­thing that sur­rounds the in­dus­try and re­al­is­ing it’s not only about the clothes – there are so many other tasks you need to do to make some­thing suc­cess­ful.” De­spite his as­cent and achieve­ment – My Theresa mak­ing $130m a year by the time he left – O’shea never lost the hon­est and raw sense of mas­culin­ity that framed his up­bring­ing. His wardrobe may have evolved to favour three­piece Jake Mueser suits (prior to join­ing Bri­oni, that is) but he wore them with a hy­per-mas­cu­line edge, as ac­ces­sorised by his biker’s beard and tatts. And it’s that same essence of man­li­ness that he wants to de­liver at Bri­oni. “My vi­sion is about bring­ing the word ‘men’ back into menswear, be­cause it's def­i­nitely gone down a path where ev­ery­one is try­ing to move away, want­ing an image that’s the con­trast to what a man rep­re­sents, search­ing for some­thing to sep­a­rate them­selves in the mar­ket. No one’s ap­plaud­ing mas­culin­ity, [but] it’s cool to be a guy and it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re straight, gay, bi­sex­ual or any­thing – who gives a shit? This [col­lec­tion] is for a man, who­ever you are – that’s what I wanted, to bring that back as that’s what’s go­ing to sep­a­rate us from all the other brands at the mo­ment.” A quick look else­where con­firms such sen­ti­ment – key lux­ury houses such as Gucci, Burberry and Givenchy but three main­tain­ing a cer­tain an­drog­y­nous out­put. That said, Bri­oni has a his­tory with ‘tra­di­tional’ mas­culin­ity – the la­bel loved by men like John Wayne and Richard Bur­ton. “Those guys who first bought into Bri­oni [in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s] were such real men and that’s what I wanted to em­body in the col­lec­tion. But I also wanted to make it fun – I didn’t want guys drink­ing whisky out of a tum­bler and smok­ing cigars and hav­ing beards and rid­ing tricked out mo­tor­cy­cles with brown seats, that’s not the path. It’s more about what de­fines a man, rather than the mod­ern things dudes are into... And I mean every fuck­ing [mar­ket­ing] cam­paign has a dude with a beard in it now – they put dudes with beards in there be­cause it’s trendy.” O’shea scouted real box­ers to model his de­but col­lec­tion, “fuck­ing tough guys”, to con­vey his mes­sage, each work­ing with de­signs that were overt and out­landish in their styling – each an ex­ten­sion of O’shea’s per­sonal style. “I wanted to be true to not only the Bri­oni brand, but also true to my­self – the one tal­ent I can say that I mod­er­ately have is tai­lor­ing. Even though I couldn’t sew a table­cloth, I know what looks amaz­ing on a guy and what style can de­fine an in­di­vid­ual among a vastly in­di­vid­ual world – so I wanted to stick to my strengths so peo­ple go, ‘At least he’s do­ing what he knows.’ And be­cause style has to be au­then­tic.” Au­then­tic­ity – it loops neatly to that no­tion of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Much like the man him­self – a guy who may be ped­dling lux­ury, but equally a guy you can eas­ily grav­i­tate to­wards and un­der­stand. Some­one for whom life is meant to be fun. “I love my job. I have a great time and I en­joy the busi­ness, fun and cre­ative as­pects of it but, at the end of the day, I’d hate to be one of those dudes who’s too se­ri­ous. It seems a bit too try-hard – that’s not the way I am. I just want to do some­thing that makes peo­ple en­joy it, and to have fun my­self... You know, I’m from the fuck­ing mid­dle of the fuck­ing Aus­tralian wilder­ness. I spend my life watch­ing fuck­ing Mar­vel films on planes. I ref­er­ence Jerry Se­in­feld and The Simp­sons. Man, if I took my­self too se­ri­ously, I’d feel like a bit of wanker.” bri­

“No one cel­e­brates mas­culin­ity, but it’s cool to be a guy – gay, straight, bi­sex­ual or any­thing, who­ever you are.”

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