John Hanna was a proud Canberran and world-renowned men’s fashion icon who kept men looking as sharp as ever for more than 40 years. With his legendary store Bunda Street closing this past July, with Hanna losing a hard-fought six-month cancer battle. Now, there will be a mural dedicated to a legend, thanks to artist Christopher Toth, on a curved window on the ground floor of Bible House in Garema Place and will remain there until December.
John Hanna’s death came as a shock and saddened many people, including the owner of CRE8IVE, James Wilson. Willson owns more than 20 John Hanna suits, and described Hanna as “a truly wonderful man”.
“He was a father to so many boys – he didn’t have sons but he had this amazing association with men from all walks of life”, Mr. Willson says, “words are often said too late, but I wrote him a letter before he passed away. I was a kid when I first walked into John Hanna and he showed me style … he sold confidence. You’d walk out of the store feeling a million bucks.”
The mural took Toth longer than he expected to paint the three-meter-high mural than originally planned.
“I was just constantly interrupted while I was painting”, Toth says, “And I loved it. People were just commenting and asking questions and telling me their own amazing stories about John. Even people that I didn’t suspect, a lot of the homeless community that were walking past were going ‘That’s John’ and one man said ‘Listen, I’m homeless, but John knew me by name’.”
Toth was assigned the incredible task by the In the City Canberra who gave Toth total freedom. Toth wanted to create something that would “send a message to the community”.
“Then I saw the article in The Canberra Times about John and I just thought ‘That’s it’”, he says, “It was important to me that I capture his energy and his personality, and not only that but I wanted more people to know about him. I wanted to educate people on who he was, he was part of the community for so long – nearly four decades – and this way he’ll live on a bit longer. It’s something very special for me as an artist. You’re always a bit apprehensive as to how it’s going to be received but to see the way people are reacting to it is phenomenal – they’re stumped, they’re really amazed.”
The mural was so impactful it had John’s wife Diana teary-eyed when she first laid her eyes on the masterpiece. Diana says John would be “chuffed” with the portrait and its bold details and artwork.
“I was standing there beside him thinking ‘Keep it together girl, keep it together’”, Diana says, “I think Christopher has captured the essence of the person – I love the eyes, his hair. The colours are very bright but he was a rather bright personality, wasn’t he? I think that’s part of who he is. He was very involved in the city area – always involved and very interested – and he loved Canberra, he loved living here. It’s just a pity he doesn’t know about it, he would be very happy.”
When Hanna’s store was closing he had an interview with The Canberra Times in which he had a memorable quote that showed what he gave to the city.
“We’ve tried to bring forward-fashion but not avant-garde fashion to Canberra over the years and, Canberra being a fairly conservative market, has tested our patience and our skills”, Hanna says, “it was with a little bit of trepidation and a little bit of guts that we took the plunge and introduced what we did. But it’s great to see that the standard of dress in this town – with our influence – has probably risen and I’m happy to have been part of that.”