Customer Spotlight: Johnny Harris

December 2023 | Written by Nicholas Sarnella

Johnny Harris is a distinguished figure in the British film and television industry, boasting a multifaceted career as an actor, screenwriter, producer, and director. A South London native hailing from Elephant and Castle, Harris rose to prominence with his breakout role in the 2006 British Crime Noir, ‘London to Brighton’, with his compelling portrayal of Derek, a violent and formidable pimp.

His talent garnered the attention of acclaimed British Social Realist director Shane Meadows, leading to Harris’s iconic portrayal of Mick Jenkins in the ‘This is England 86’ series. This portrayal, a complex character marked by violent and abusive tendencies, earned Harris nominations for both BAFTA TV and Royal Television Society Awards.

In 2017 Harris made his screenwriting debut with Jawbone, an acclaimed production which not only showcased his writing prowess but also featured a soundtrack by the legendary Paul Weller, a fellow customer and collaborator at John Simons.

In a notable departure from his intense on-screen personas, Harris emanates a warm and friendly charisma. During our conversation, we delve into the transformative impact of Harris’s acting career on his personal style as well as the influence of fellow John Simons’ patrons and creative luminaries such as Mark Baxter, David Rosen, and Martin Freeman on this journey.

Can you remember the first significant piece of clothing you purchased? What was it and where was it bought?

George Dyer was a very well-respected bespoke tailor and his shop, ‘Threadneedle Man’, just happened to be in the neighbourhood that I grew up in near Elephant and Castle. It was an incredible place with a great reputation, frequented by the likes of Paul Weller, Suggs, David Haye, Robert Elms and Martin Freeman, all of whom would travel to South London to have their suits made by him. I’d been going in there for years because I just loved to sit and chat life with George, but I never really had the money to have a suit made. Eventually, I think he took pity on me and offered me a bit of a deal, so I ordered my first ever pair of bespoke trousers. We chose a grey, checked cloth and George suggested a frogmouth pocket and a few other nice details. He used a yellow stitching on the seams, which sounds mad, but it really worked. I loved them! I loved the whole experience and I still have them now… along with some beautiful memories of my friend and his shop. Southwark Council have announced they’ll be erecting a Blue Plaque in honour of George Dyer next year which will be a lovely tribute to a great man.

When was your first visit to John Simons and what were your first impressions?

It would’ve been 2016, because I’d just finished work on the movie Jawbone and I was having a coffee in Soho with the actor, Michael Smiley. I’d casually mentioned to him that I was looking to buy a nice overcoat for the autumn, and he told me John Simons was the place to go. I popped straight over to Marylebone and my first impression was that it was like finding a treasure trove! I couldn’t believe that I’d only just discovered the place now and it felt like I’d been ‘let in’ on a well-kept secret. I remember standing and looking at the window display for a good while before eventually going inside. It was beautifully arranged and like nothing I’d ever seen before. I remember Sean greeting me and being very kind and then John coming upstairs to say hello. We tried on some different styles, and I left with a vintage Gloverall, grey woollen overcoat, which I love and still wear today. Coincidentally, around that same time, one of my dearest friends Mark Baxter had started work on a documentary all about John Simons and the influence he’s had on style and culture in London. It’s a terrific film and that was it! I became a convert and a regular customer.

What item of clothing could you not live without?

A couple of years ago I bought a John Simons winter overcoat. It’s a dark green herringbone, made from Donegal Tweed, with a green satin lining. I love it!

What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?

Oh, I very much doubt your readers will be needing any style tips from me. I just try to keep it simple, maintain standards and enjoy the ride!

Do you have a sartorial hero?

Paul Weller, Mark Baxter and Dave Rosen are very dear friends of mine. Mark and Dave have both previously been featured in your ‘Customer Spotlight’ section and Mr Weller needs no introduction. Three very stylish men indeed who love their clothes, take them seriously and pay keen attention to detail and reverence for the history and heritage of a particular item. I could listen to those three chatting about the joy of clothing, or culture, together all day long. They love it and it’s infectious! Those three have been a big influence on me over the years. Robert Elms is also a very dapper fellow and Steve Cradock and Martin Freeman are two more friends with very high standards. I had the honour of meeting Nick Lowe recently. We had a coffee together on Chiltern Street opposite the shop. Not only an incredible songsmith and a lovely man, but also a very sharp dresser too.

If you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?

I was at the Sir Peter Blake 90th birthday concert at The Royal Festival Hall a little while back and the line-up was dreamlike: Chrissie Hinde, Madness, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and The Who. For so many reasons it was just an unforgettable night and in truth, I don’t know if I’ll ever top that one. My fantasy concert, however, would be Nina Simone live at Ronnie Scott’s. There’s footage of Nina performing the song ‘Stars’ live at The Montreux Jazz Festival, and it is breath taking to watch! It’d be electrifying to witness that level of performance in an intimate venue like Ronnie Scott’s. I’d be relaxed but suited out of respect for the occasion. I have a nice dark brown, needle cord bespoke two-piece suit that was made for me by my friend Tom Arena. I’d wear that with a charcoal grey cashmere polo neck, brown Cheaney brogues and my favourite red, paisley Nicholson and Walcott pocket-chief.

Do you feel that your profession has impacted your style? Or do you feel as if your sense of style has impacted your choice of profession?

Oh, in all honesty I don’t think there was too much style going on when I first walked into my local acting classes. I was young, skint, and full of self-centred anger and frustration at the world. I was probably wearing a tatty t-shirt with ‘Piss Off’ written across the front! I think acting and storytelling became a vehicle for me. Through the exploration and portrayal of others I slowly began to discover myself. There’s something very cathartic about expressing yourself honestly in that way and as my understanding of who I was and what I stood for began to evolve and grow, then so did my expression of that towards the outside world, in all sorts of ways, I imagine, including my wardrobe.

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