Everything in the vernacular of menswear is relevant
Is it still necessary since he acted in 2013, as judge on the BBC series The Great British Sewing Bee to present Patrick Grant?
Patrick Grant is the owner, designer and creative director of bespoke tailors Norton & Sons of Savile Row and of E. Tautz & Sons, the tailor ready to wear label. As Grant’s key position in the UK menswear industry, Grant’s involvement with fashion came relatively late in his career. A Scott man born in 1972, Grant graduated with a B.Eng. from the University of Leeds and worked in engineering before studying for an MBA at New College, Oxford. There, his interest went to luxury heritage fashion brand. His thesis title was: Is Burberry’s formula for brand revitalisation replicable? We do not know what his answer was at the time, but his acquisition of Norton & Sons and the 8 years since seem to provide a resounding YES!
Patrick, you originally trained as an engineer and then did an MBA. What led you to fashion?
I had always been fascinated by menswear, fashion, luxury, old brands. I had just never thought to make a career of it. It was a complete accident that I came across the opportunity with Norton & Sons. When I did it seemed like the right thing to do.
Would you have risked the same adventure with a womenswear label?
We do a small amount of womens wear within the Tautz line, but all conceived in a very masculine way. Menswear is what I understand; it’s what I’m passionate about.
Norton & Sons is a Savile Row tailor. It owned the brand Tautz which you re-launched in 2009 as a ready-to-wear line. What is Tautz heritage?
Edward Tautz ran one of the most prestigious sporting tailors of the 19th century. He was a genuine innovator in the field of sportswear and held royal warrants to many European Royal Families, and made for many great men including Winston Churchill. It has a very strong legacy.
What differentiates Norton & Sons and Tautz; what do they hold in common?
What they have in common is a long British heritage and a commitment to beautiful quality British cloths and craftsmanship … and they are both tailoring houses. Other than that the similarities are few.
Norton & Sons is made and sold only in our own shop on Savile Row; it cannot be bought anywhere else. Tautz is made with commercial makers and sold though department stores and boutiques in nine countries, and also on etautz.com. We sell the Tautz ties and socks at Norton’s but other than that there is no crossover.
I am really the only overlap between the two brands; I spend half of my time in each business, so naturally ideas will flow from one to another through me.
How would you describe the design process in your two businesses?
At Norton & Sons there is no explicit design. I discuss each piece we make with the individual customer; it’s a very personal process and ultimately a collaborative one.
Tautz has two designers who work with me. I provide the creative direction for each new collection, but thereafter we very much work together, we all bring ideas, and work through them together, refining and editing.
Do you feel your engineering and business past are useful to the design process?
I strongly believe that to begin with at least, you have to leave business out of fashion.You have to pursue your own aesthetic, have a unique point of view. Often this doesn’t equate with instant commercial success.
I guess what the business training has taught me is to spend all my energy on the important stuff and for the rest, live a very monastic life!
The engineering is directly useful though. Everything we’re taught about designing a product; function, simplification, beauty of form, choice of material and process of manufacturing is the same no matter what you’re designing.
There seems to be an increasing interest from people who have not trained in fashion to launch their own labels. How do you feel you may have benefitted from studying fashion?
Raf Simmons, Hedi Slimane, Paul Smith, Tom Ford, all skipped fashion school and haven’t done so badly. It would certainly have given me an earlier opportunity to develop a style. I’ve designed the Tautz collections for five years now and it feels like only now am I working out a style. Given a few more I think I might have nailed it!
You have collaborated with designers such as Kim Jones and Christopher Kane. Could you tell us about these collaborations?
What Kim and Christopher wanted from us was the skill of our cutters and tailors. Taking traditional workmanship and applying it to their collections. It was pretty straightforward; they approached me, told me what they wanted, and we worked with them to achieve it, much like we would with any regular customer. We’ve worked in much the same way with many other people.
You are proud to sell made-in-Britain products. Why does this matter to you?
I believe we have in the UK, a great opportunity to manufacture high end clothing competitively. I believe that in doing so we would employ tens of thousands of people in very highly skilled, well paid, and extremely rewarding work. For the customers it is simply about being able to buy beautifully made clothes. I’m not doing it for jingoistic reasons, I am not chauvinistic!
With the support of The Woolmark Company you collaborated with Scottish woollen mill Johnstons of Elgin for the Tautz AW 2013 collection. What was it like working with 250 years of Scottish Estate tweeds archives?
The Johnstons archive, like a few other great cloth archives we have had access to, are amazing resources.
Designing beautiful cloths is a real art and between their old patterns and their current designers I think we were able to realise some amazing things.
What are the qualities of tweed as a material, you especially like?
Woollen cloths of all descriptions are so versatile. You can do so much with them; they take dyes in a very vibrant way making the colours strong, you have such scope to work with the surface finish, and they are such great cloths to work with because they have memory, they will retain shape in a way no other fabrics do. This is fundamentally important to all tailors work.
Practically how did your collaboration with Johnstons of Elgin work?
We began with some ideas from the archive which we asked them to rescale, looking at enlarging the blank spaces in particular so we could place them in interesting ways on the garment. We choose colours from their yarn palette and worked back and forth with their design teams until we had cad’s that we felt were right. They then produced samples for us which we further refined before making the final cloths in the weights constructions and finishes we chose, depending on whether they were outerwear or suiting cloths.
How is the aesthetics of Scottish Estate tweeds relevant to contemporary menswear design?
Everything in the vernacular of menswear is relevant. Our AW13 collection was all about the idea of adjusting that classic Scottish pattern, be it tartan tweed or argyle.
How does Tautz manage to be contemporary while “transcending trends”?
Trends are created post factum. What we do is try to create beautiful clothes that will give people years of pleasure wearing.
How is Savile Row relevant to contemporary menswear?
Savile Row will only be relevant if the craftspeople that work on it, with the traditional skills, choose to move forward. If they don’t it won’t be.
Thanks Patrick for your time and this insight in what you do.
As a conclusion we cannot recommend enough that you watch this eight days tour around Great Britain documenting some of the heritage manufacturers who contribute to the E. Tautz collections. This series was created by Patrick Grant, BAFTA winning Documentary Film-maker Ian Denyer and Photographer Chris Floyd.