How the 50 Shades of Grey Tailor Made the Power Suit Into the Domination Suit

​Johnathan Behr wasn't sure what movie he was working on, but he knew what look he was trying to achieve.
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​Johnathan Behr wasn't sure what movie he was working on, but he knew what look he was trying to achieve.
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For a Californian, Johnathan Behr is a traditionalist. That's why he chose to model his eponymous shop in Los Angeles on Savile Row's oldest institutions and that's why suntanned men who want a suit - and want it made right - know where to find him. Still, Behr currently finds himself on the cultural cultural edge. He's the guy behind the scene-stealing suits in 50 Shades of Grey(well, the guy behind costume designer Mark Bridges anyway), a movie that will make a silly amount of money and, hopefully, teach Americans a bit more about serious suiting.

MAXIM talked to Behr about how he got involved in the project and the next generation of power suits.

Whatever else it might be about, 50 Shades is about power. What is a modern power suit?

A modern power suit is dark or charcoal or navy, probably a solid if it isn’t windowpane, and the silhouette is body conscious without added shoulders. Jackets are just long enough to cover the butt. It used to be all about Armani, but those suits were huge so they don’t look right anymore. I think you’ve got to think mid-sixties James Bond – it’s almost a mod cut.

And in order to get the right look you have to get the suit really tailored to your body. If you want to have a modern looking suit you’ve got to have it made.

What do you think this particular look evolved from?

A lot of it come from Mad Men. They have a more minimalist look and they brought back sharkskin, which had disappeared, but looks totally great.

Doublebreasted?

Doublebreasted is rare in L.A. It was the powersuit of the eighties, but it’s only a really sophisticated customer that gets one today. He probably owns a dozen single-breasted suits already. They actually had me make two double-breasted suits for the film, but then the powers that be decided against them and I had to remake them as single breasted. As you can image, it wasn’t easy.

Let’s talk about the process of making suits for a massive blockbuster. How did they find you?

In Los Angeles, I have a reputation for operating the best – and maybe only – bespoke tailoring shop. We do everything after multiple sittings and have modeled ourselves on a Savile Row shop. I design the clothes, but I have a team of tailors on site. But it wasn’t just reputation, I have this key referral. Jamie Bryant, the costume designer on Mad Men has said things about me to the guys from that show, from Radiohead, and to Flea and Jack White. I guess Mark Bridges contacted her and she told him to call me.

What did he say when he got in touch?

He was really vague. He just said we had this short window of time. He came in and was looking and touching. He like suits with a soft, luxuriant fell. He said, ‘We have an actor coming in from London and we need something in 10 days.’ We always do multiple fittings – sometimes four – so I ask him what the movie is and he says it’s called The Adventure of Max and Banks. I didn’t know that was code.

You just thought it was another movie with a rich male character.

I get costume designers rushing me all the time. I didn’t know how big a deal this was.

You must have been pumped. What was it like to work with soon-to-be megastar Jamie Dornan?

Jamie was just a sweetheart and humble and nice and I could just tell he was going to be huge. He’s got this great face. He’s a handsome guy. But what happened was they took him up to Vancouver and put him in a gym four hours a day lifting weights. I had to have a tailor make alterations after the fact because he put on muscle mass in his back and arms. You can’t really do that if you want a modern, custom suit.