Justin “Big Fresh” Johnson is a really big dude.
And for the most part, Johnson’s bigness has served him well. The 6-foot, 7-inch, 355-pound Neumann-Goretti senior will start his freshman year at the University of Oregon this fall, where he will play football on a full scholarship.
An offensive tackle and 2017 Inquirer first-team all-area all-star selection, Johnson’s build is why the whispers of NFL potential are real.
But when Johnson was looking for a tuxedo for his recent senior prom, size became a serious issue.
Enter Brian Lipstein.
He’s the owner of Rittenhouse Square custom clothier Henry A. Davidsen. They donated a custom tuxedo to Johnson’s fashion cause, complete with peak lapels, satin trim, slanted pockets, and a monogrammed shirt. It had all the bells and whistles an 18-year-old would need to be, well, “Fresh.”
“To wear a custom tuxedo for the first time felt remarkable,” said Johnson, who lives in Southwest Philly and who attended the prom at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia with his girlfriend, Taleeah Jones, last weekend. “Wearing something designed for and fitted just for me was the best feeling ever. I felt more than special, I felt sensational!”
Johnson participated in the Center City nonprofit Focused Athletics, where he regularly went during the school year to meet with academic tutors and football coaches. Focused Athletics is a four-year-old program, and under the guidance of founder Jackson Duncan, it has helped 46 kids get into college. There are 20 in this year’s program.
“I played football at Franklin & Marshall and was invited to work out with some kids in South Philly at a football training [four years ago] and was struck by all the needs these kids had,” Duncan said. “Justin was one of those kids and was literally growing out of his shoes — he went from a size 14 to a size 18 in one summer. The first donation for Focused Athletics was shoes for Justin.”
Like many of the best fashion connections, Duncan and Lipstein were introduced to each other at a ritzy gala. In this case, it was the annual Friends of the Rittenhouse Ball on the Square two years ago. Lipstein, impressed with Focused Athletics, began going to the nonprofit’s meetings to teach the young men etiquette and share his dress-for-success tips.
Duncan decided he wanted to do something extra-special for Johnson when he learned of Johnson’s full ride to Oregon. So when Johnson shared with Duncan his prom suit travails, Duncan went to Lipstein for help.
A half-dozen fittings in between football practices later, Johnson walked out of Lipstein’s studio on a recent Friday with a $2,000 silk-lined tuxedo fashioned from Australian merino wool. Johnson’s perfectly fitted shiny bow tie and cummerbund came courtesy of John Kochis, the man behind the pocket squares and suspenders on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
“I felt right at ease,” Johnson said. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”