We chatted with M.J. Bale founder, Matt Jensen about the M.J. Brand and what inspires him.
The son of a woolgrower and grazier, Matt Jensen grew up on the land in rural Yass, New South Wales – an experience that ignited his lifelong appreciation for Merino wool. It was when working in the finance industry in London during the 1990s that Matt found his passion for menswear, designing and manufacturing his local rugby side’s kit in his part-time. Inspired by the quality and craftsmanship of Savile Row and Jermyn Street, he returned to Australia in 1999 to co-found and launch men’s clothing brand Herringbone. After 9 years Matt branched out on his own. He consulted to hip New York menswear brand, Thom Browne, then, with the help of some school friends, launched M.J. Bale in 2009. Today M.J. Bale has over 30 standalone stores and works with the finest sartorial artisans in Italy and Japan to deliver garments of integrity. Matt’s now recognised design style is based around ‘soft tailoring’, meaning heavy structured padding and weight is stripped from coats and jackets, making them lighter and more wearable for the harsh Australian climate. He lives between Sydney and a farm in the Southern Highlands of NSW, and is married with four children.
When I was playing rugby at school and university I was always pretty interested in designing the team kit. But the big moment for me was when I was working in banking in London and it became clear when looking at what was available there on Savile Row and Jermyn St that there was a significant opportunity in Australia. Another reason why I chose tailoring specifically was that, as the son of woolgrower, I’ve been passionate about wool my entire life so an opportunity to extend that passion into a career certainly made sense.
It’s quite simple really. Firstly, we have been quite lucky that although we started during the GFC, we launched a menswear brand as just has the menswear resurgence both globally and in Australia began to take-off. But really what sets us apart is being proudly Australian owned and operated, being a pure-play menswear brand with authority and expertise, and having an unsurpassed value proposition in the Australian menswear industry.
I’m always thinking of creating new collections based on the Australian man’s lifestyle, with an emphasis on those that travel. In this particular instance, the collection was influenced by my time working in London for four years after graduating university. London has and will always represent in mind a very significant type of masculine elegance and we have attempted to imbue that in the new collection with beautiful woollen coats, cable knit jumpers, double-breasted suits etc.. Hence also the name of the campaign – The Return Of A Well-Dressed Gentleman
I’m lucky enough to work with a great team, both our head office and at the retail level around our 48 locations. We have a very diverse range of personalities and that certainly keeps things entertaining on a day-to-day level. In terms of rewarding, seeing a customer still wearing a piece from one of the very first collections always strikes a chord and demonstrates that we are here to stay.
Florence. One of, if not the most beautiful cities in the world with a rich cultural history and certainly its fair share of well-dressed men.
Prince Charles. I met him at a Woolmark event a few years back – his custom made suits were impeccable. He knows what works for him and he sticks to it, plus he is the perfect patron for the Campaign for Wool, given he is rarely seen not in tailoring.
James Bond would be an awesome project to work on given the style and most importantly, the functional requirements of 007.
We’ve introduced the Dressing Room concept first two years ago when we decided to move our office from above the Queen St store in Woollahra, Sydney. We decide to create a by-appointment area where customers could come for private fittings, mainly for weddings or custom tailoring. Our dressing rooms are a shop within a shop, with leather chairs, whisky, and the same service we’ve become known for around the country.
Difficult to say exactly, but our goal is to be a truly global business. We open our first store in New Zealand in March 2016 with another to follow in July, so one would hope that in ten years we have stores in key markets such as Hong Kong, the UK and the US. Also other categories are interesting, in addition to our current full-wardrobe menswear offer. But honestly if in ten years we are still simply creating great quality, affordable menswear that has been designed with thought and using the best quality raw materials, I’ll be happy with that.