In an unassuming area of Swanston Street, inside the Nicholas Building, works an artist.
José Zarpán is a bespoke tailor creating exquisite clothing with a twist. He tailors each piece to the person’s personality.
(below: The stunning Nicholas Building is a gem in the crown of Swanston Street in Melbourne, Australia. Find the atelier of José Zarpán within the studios of this building and be transported to another time and place).
(below: Bespoke sartorial creations such as this double-breasted jacket ooze the elegance and attention to detail which has established Zarpán's reputation as a sought after tailor, with a clientele including the Prime Minister and a number of fashionista-celebrities).
Born in Peru, then moving to Australia, José has had a passion for fashion since he was nine years old. He has many years of experience and has even altered a suit for Tony Abbot.
A sought-after tailor with an exclusive list of regular clientele, José’s heritage and knowledge are reflected in the skilled creation of his clothing. However, his Peruvian heritage does not directly influence his aesthetic design choices very often primarily because Australia and Peru are such different countries with clearly very different trends and styles.
(below: The heritage-listed Cathedral Arcade, within the Nicholas Building, Swanston Street, will lead you to Jose Zarpan's studio, however, remember that bookings are preferably by appointment with the designer so it's best to phone ahead to secure a spot on the list).
In my interview with José, he reveals his process for gaining inspiration for his clothing designs, stating the following:
“I talk to my clients to get to know the person on the inside; that’s who I want to make clothes for."
José goes on to admit that the clothes can be difficult at times to create as each piece is so unique. What speaks directly to José within this uniqueness is a desire to rebel against the monotony of the rat race by standing by his commitment to bespoke, handmade
craftsmanship. Within the modern malaise, he believes, is the dilemma created by the fact that people are usually so caught up in their schedules, with so many time-constraints.
“Everyone in this world is just running, (and in a rush, without stopping to look inside)," he muses. "(When I design for my clients), it is important for me to find the person inside and to make clothes for them. When you come to a bespoke tailor, you say, 'I want, I like,' and we make. It isn’t about me, it’s about them (so the focus is on my clients). I try to make something for them.”
When discussing current trends in Melbourne, José laments the rise of “fast fashion.” He shares that he receives a lot of requests for alterations from people who have purchased poorly-constructed fast fashion items from major retailers, only to find that they are ill fitting. Clients are clearly disappointed with the lack of quality from the chain stores' selections and queuing up instead to find a bespoke tailor whom will genuinely listen to them and take the time to create something which speaks to their individual personalities and, which is built
(below: The Atelier. Enter another world where, in the midst of the city, time stands still and you are transported to another era - an era in which every element is hand-finished. "Every detail must be perfect," insists tailor, José Zarpán).
Jose agrees however that “fast fashion” is still a big competitor and one of the reasons for the decline of many tailors being able to make a consistent living in Melbourne.
That said, while people may currently be shopping at mainstream outlets, they are still struggling to find something they like that fits well from the more popular brands of fashion outlets. For example, for more mature ladies, José believes that there is little choice in fashion because of the market limitations. The big labels present something of a conundrum in that
(below: Work-station in the atelier).
they have limited scope within the production line, so they don’t produce a lot of variety as they are aiming to be cost-effective and therefore very specific in what they can make.
In response to such limitations, clients are coming forward to tailors and are tending to request the two key styles that José is most frequently asked about, namely, styles inspired by Italian and United Kingdom fashions. According to José, the Italian style is more about being colourful, whilst the United Kingdom is about elegance and a classic design.
In terms of his own design process, when a customer first approaches José, he asks them to talk about what they like, even suggesting that they come back with some drawings or examples. Using quality materials from Peru such as Baby Alpaca, llama, wool and cotton, José then takes the clients' suggestions and begins to design something that they will hopefully love.
José does not like to follow fashion. For him, fashion is not about following a trend. He feels that too often, people wear something somebody made, that sometimes they don’t actually really like, for the sake of fashion. When people come to him, he prefers for his clients to follow their dreams. He believes every person has "their own universe," and should find out what they can discover within this universe for themselves.
Whilst you explore this personal universe, he feels that people should “try to express themselves" by allowing their individuality to shine through.
During the interview, José points out that while there are indeed a number of fashion design courses available for budding designers, there is a dearth of courses aimed specifically at mastering the art of tailoring.
In José’s eyes, the lack of training and inability to explore the art of tailoring means that most designers all too often end up simply copying other existing styles. He insists that we need to educate the next generation on not only how to make a suit, but also on how to wear one.
(below: If you've never experienced what it feels like to have a bespoke suit, made to measure, the best place to start is with the José Zarpán studio because the tailor will actually LISTEN to you and include your input while ensuring that the cut and fit are appropriate for your needs).
José’s philosophy is to enjoy life as it comes. In our interview he says, “I learnt a lot from life since I began working at seven years old. My Grandfather said to me to enjoy life. The life is easy, the life is nice, but then, we complicate the life. (My goal is to encourage people to just enjoy it.)”
This philosophy is obviously a heavy influence on José’s work and his unique designer style.
If shopping is retail therapy, then José Zarpán is a retail therapist and is definitely worth checking out.
(below: Original designs with unique detailing are hallmarks of bespoke garments
by José Zarpán).
Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Room 421,
Level 4 Melbourne VIC Australia 3000
Mon- Fri 9AM-6PM
Phone: 03 9654 3926