Getting to Know the Man Behind the Bespoke Flannel Suit: An Interview with Patrick Grant
Patrick Grant has the rare ability to look as at ease in a three-piece bespoke suit as he does in the vintage t-shirt and casual chinos he wore the day we talked. He is both the owner of Norton & Sons and the award-winning creative director of E. Tautz. Grant revived Norton & Son’s failing business back in 2005 and re-launched E. Tautz in 2009 as Savile Row’s very own fresh, young fashion house. Grant is equal parts humble and ambitious, known for his cool, down to earth demeanor and his unfaltering work ethic.
Grant not only possesses impeccable business savvy – illustrated by Norton & Sons complete turn around – he is also quite the style icon, having topped a best dressed list or two. His style is best summarized as restrained elegance, and his closet defined by gray flannel suits and navy jumpers. Gleaning inspiration from train rides and museums alike he believes that inspiration can be found everywhere. Join us as we chat about pin boards, scotch whiskies, and the power of a bouclé jacket.
How did you first become involved with Norton & Sons and the world of Savile Row?
I took over in 2005, I had seen an advertisement for sale in the paper. I went to visit the shop and immediately mortgaged everything so that I could buy it. It was a strange coincidence
But why? You were an engineer at the time, right?
I am a huge fan of handmade things, especially clothes. I was always very fond of Savile Row and I felt like it was something I could do. There are quite a few similarities between the business of engineering and the business of clothing. There is the manufacturing to start and in the end they are both about offering services and simple well-understood products. I knew I needed to reinvigorate the business and find a really brilliant team of tailors to get it back. On the face of it, it seemed fairly straightforward. It, of course, didn’t turn out to be.
What inspired you to re-launch E. Tautz?
People asked if we would do a ready to wear line and we wanted to keep Norton & Sons purely bespoke. E. Tautz has a different type of history, while Norton & Sons has always been sport coats and classic suits E. Tautz was originally technical sportswear. So it made more sense that E. Tautz would be our ready to wear and Norton & Sons would remain just bespoke tailoring
Have you found a magic formula for reinventing old brands?
I don’t think there is any one formula. Each old brand has its own unique history, with it’s own set of baggage. Lots of people have tried to replicate what Burberry has done and the variables are rather simple: Burberry has really, really good people and really, really strong exaction. It takes time, it doesn’t t happen over night, you just can’t expect to turn things completely around over night. It has taken us six to seven years to get Norton & Sons right.
With E. Tautz hitting Barneys and new collaborations with Louboutin, Barbour, and J.Crew, can you tell me a little about you’re working on now?
Christian Louboutin is a long time customer of Tautz. He recently designed the shoes for the E. Tautz presentation and that was really great. It’s been a pleasure working with Barbour. Barbour is all about a certain kind of robust ruggedness. Norton & Sons kind focuses on the same thing, understated functionality, great cutting, brilliant materials, reducing clothes to hardwearing, functional, weatherproof pieces.
As for J.Crew, we just made a few beautiful, simple shirts. Jenna Lyons came across our shirts and liked them so we did a little reengineering job on some things to match what she wanted.
What prompted you to venture into women’s wear?
Our women’s shirting started in a Japanese store, they asked us for women’s sizes of our men’s shirts, so we did and they sold really well. Then they asked us to do an overcoat and a pair of trousers. It’s simple designs that come directly out of what we do for men, same designers, same fabric and same styles.
And how about your collaboration with Chivas Brothers?
On the face of it it’s not an obvious partnership, but between Savile Row and master whiskey blenders there are a lot of parallels. The obvious is that they both make expensive items for gentlemen. The skills for each trade are also both passed along from man to man. Akin to master cutters learning from the master cutter before him, master blenders learn from the master blender before them. It takes 20 years of work before you can call yourself a master tailor, without that skill and tradition there would be no Savile Row tailoring.
This was a really nice parallel so it was an easy, straightforward decision. The collaboration included designing a gift tin to fit the Chivas Regal 12 that was an exploration of classic menswear items. The limited edition tin showcases four silhouettes that each feature a different menswear style accessory associated with the modern gentleman: a tie, a cufflink, a watch and pocket square.
How would you describe your own personal style?
Simple, good clothes. I don’t buy an awful lot of clothing, just a few things that are beautifully made. I wear simple suits, usually gray flannel, a plain white shit and a dark tie. That’s my “smart look”. My non-smart look includes navy blue cotton chinos or jeans, a navy blue jumper, a stripe blue shirt, and some vintage army pieces. I really like vintage army pants. My wardrobe is very small, with lots of pairs of chinos and lots of navy jumpers. The only thing that I particularly indulge in that is not necessarily a staple is outerwear. I love the E. Tautz outerwear, like a big tweed jacket, it isn’t a staple but it is where I get to have a bit of fun. I keep to really basic base layers then add a big overcoat on top.
Can I ask about what you’re wearing today?
You can, ha ha. I’m wearing my black red wings, stripy blue and gray socks, navy chinos, a vintage khaki green t-shirt and I have my navy blue jumper thrown over my chair.
Okay, so besides your navy blue jumper what is your favorite item of clothing?
My grandfather’s suit from 1933. It’s really special and has endured for a really long time. My dad wore it too and it’s been mine since my teens. We try to do that same thing with Norton & Sons, by making suits that can endure like that.
Your style is elegant but still effortless, any tips on maintaining that balance?
Paring basic, simple staples with just one item that may be a little different. Don’t overload it. It’s all about the details and wearing things the way they are suppose to be worn. And don’t mess with things too much. If your shoes have laces, tie them up, keep things in good order, pressed shirt and pressed trouser.
And don’t dress to be photographed, I find that a bit absurd. Wear what you feel comfortable in, wear what you like. People sometimes just look uncomfortable in their clothes, look at yourself in the mirror and ask is that me? Am I portraying myself in a true light through me clothes? If you asked a lot of people that they honestly would probably answer no.
Where do you go for inspiration?
You can find Inspiration everywhere! I read a lot of history books, plays, and biographies with personal photos. I travel a lot, I am privileged to be able to travel with work to places like Paris, New York City, Beijing and Hong Kong. You can literally find inspiration everywhere in everything you touch, from vintage fairs to eBay.
What’s your creative process like?
Things pop into my head at all times. I have a big board behind my desk with things pinned to it. Well, currently I have four boards. I take lots of photographs with my Nokia 1020. I take lots of pictures, email them, print them and put them on the boards. I find especially while sitting on trains things come to me. We have two big collections a year, and they both start with one big idea. We sit and I’ll kick off an idea and then they do tons of research and we throw ideas around. We end up with walls and walls of ideas and then have to refine them and boil them down to details and fabrics selections. It takes time, usually a month of refining ideas then making samples at the studio and then trying them on and working them round.
Do you have a vision for the future of menswear?
This recent collection, winter/autumn 2014, saw a movement toward men wearing more patterns. When we started E. Tautz our first collection had a lot of big checks and our second was full of check suiting. Check suiting has come quite a ways in the menswear world. Check suiting wasn’t big five years ago.
So we brought that back and are trying to encourage men to wear more patterns and colors in a way that pre dates exuberant menswear. Women have an enormous pallet, for men it’s more modest but I think that’s changing. Within our collection there are always simple charcoal and gray suits and then we add on bigger patterns and style them with lots of everything hoping that the guys take away wearing a bouclé tweed jacket but still retaining the white shirt, dark tie, and simple shoes. It’s all about finding that single new piece that can enliven your entire wardrobe.
Brilliant. I couldn’t agree more.