Close up: Patrick Grant, owner of Norton & Sons and creative director of E Tautz
The owner of Norton & Sons and creative director of E Tautz is calmly going about the business of livening up men’s tailoring.
When I visit the east London studios of menswear brand E Tautz, just a matter of days before its recent spring 14 catwalk show at London Collections: Men, I could be forgiven for thinking I’ve got the wrong address. The warehouse space I enter is a cross between an eccentric country house and a sleek design studio, with its team of workers calmly tapping away at computers arranged around a cluster of cosy sofas and a desk strewn with bric-a-brac.
The only things signalling that this is the home of one of London’s brightest menswear brands are the neatly organised rails of clothes, the mood boards covering the walls and the casually placed trophies set on shelves, with the British Fashion Council’s Menswear Designer of the Year award standing out.
Behind the desk sits Patrick Grant, the award-winning creative director of the brand, his hair neatly parted, his grey-flecked beard a day or two past being neatly trimmed.
I expected to walk into a scene of hectic preparation and not the calm composure I’m met with - but it soon becomes clear that’s just not Grant’s style.
Rather, he is a man who coolly takes everything in his stride. At ease in a three-piece dinner suit, topping best-dressed lists and being papped at parties with his famous friends and high-profile girlfriend (Katie Hillier, the new creative director of Marc by Marc Jacobs), he’s just as charming in the casual chinos and trainers he is wearing when I meet him. Grant comes across as one of London menswear’s most down-to-earth yet switched-on figures, and an incredibly busy one at that. He’s creative director of E Tautz - where he is also expanding into a full womenswear offer for pre-spring 14 - owns Savile Row bespoke tailor Norton & Sons, consults for clients including Christopher Kane, Kim Jones and The Kooples, is launching collaborations with Barbour and Debenhams, and even finds time to take to our television screens to judge the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee.
Since snapping up Norton & Sons in 2005, Grant has rejuvenated the once ailing business. For autumn 09, he relaunched Nortons’ subsidiary brand E Tautz as a ready-to-wear label. “There was a demand for a fresher take on Savile Row,” explains Grant. “Tautz was a bit younger, so it seemed like the sensible thing to do.”
Grant decided to show E Tautz at London Fashion Week for spring 10 and the brand has since flourished, finding its identity among the other emerging London brands. “Autumn 13 looks incredible, very ‘English gentleman’ in a super-modern way,” says stockist Paul Baptiste, buying and operations manager at lifestyle indie The Shop at Bluebird in Chelsea.
“If anything, [the link to Savile Row] brings a definite provenance and integrity to the collection, something our client loves.”
The brand is proving popular abroad too, with eight stockists in Japan alone, as well as South Korea, China, and Vietnam, alongside the likes of department store Barneys in the US and The Corner online.
The introduction of womenswear came next, starting out as a small collection of men’s pieces shrunk to fit, but now expanded into a full collection for pre-spring 14, including shirts, blouses and knits.
Combined turnover for last year at Norton & Sons and E Tautz was about £1.1m, with a profit of about £14,000. “I would hate to say at this point that we’ve made a success of Tautz. We’re doing well but I think we’ve got a long way to go.”
With a thumb in another pie, Grant has also lent his expertise to British heritage brand Barbour, collaborating on its top-end Beacon Heritage Range. The three-season collaboration, which launches for autumn 13, balances the flair of Savile Row with the rugged masculinity of Barbour archive pieces. “Patrick is a larger-than-life figure but essentially a very nice bloke who has a real passion for clothing and a depth of experience,” says Ian Bergin, head of menswear at Barbour.
Grant’s next step is the relaunch of another Norton & Sons sub-brand, the 250-year-old Hammond & Co, in a collaboration with high street retailer Debenhams for autumn 13.
“We identified Patrick as the perfect fit for Debenhams. At the time he had Norton on the Row and E Tautz, but nothing on a more affordable level,” explains Debenhams senior menswear designer Alastair Waite.
The many different strings to Grant’s bow are helping his business grow. His canny move to play on Norton & Sons’ tradition while rejuvenating, linking up, but at the same time differentiating each strand of the business has meant his menswear offer now covers a broad spectrum of the market while maintaining a sense of integrity and quality at its core. “Norton is the absolute apogee of beautiful luxury hand tailoring, while Tautz is a ready-to-wear Savile Row fashion house - it’s quite expensive,” Grant explains. “But Hammond is very democratic, it’s about taking the things I believe in and giving people who can’t afford Norton the chance to dress that way.”
Born in Edinburgh in 1972, Grant’s interest in fashion started early. “I remember very clearly always being concerned about making sure my tie was neat and my jumper lined up, even when I was little,” he says proudly.
However, the path he took to a career in fashion was unusual. After gaining a Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering he worked for a brewery, an engineering company, at a summer camp in Santa Cruz, as a nanny, a landscape gardener and a model agent, before studying an MBA in Business Administration at the University of Oxford.
During his MBA, Grant came across an ad in the Financial Times announcing that Norton & Sons, the small Savile Row tailor established in 1821, was up for sale. “I thought ‘well that might be interesting’.
So I decided to give it a go,” he says in his blasé, casual manner.
He sold his house, got a loan and some “old mates” to invest, scraping together the money to buy. He then set about tidying up the tailor, rebranding, redecorating and hiring new top-level staff. Now with a highly skilled team of more than 20, Norton & Sons has tripled the amount of bespoke suits it produces to a respectable 300 a year, costing from £3,000 for a two-piece and each taking up to 12 weeks to finish.
“We have a pretty young set of customers, which is great, because hopefully they’ll be with us for another 40 years,” says Grant. “Norton makes money - not huge amounts - but it probably turns over about a 10% [annual] profit.”
When back at Oxford completing his MBA, Grant’s thesis looked at the regeneration of luxury fashion brands, focusing on the revitalisation of Burberry. Does he believe he has achieved a similar feat with the revitalisation of Norton & Sons? “Norton was in a voluntary arrangement with the receivers, it was on its knees and heading for the guillotine. It seems a bit funny to talk about it in those terms, because it’s very small in scale,” he says with a pause, twiddling his moustache as he thinks. “But yes, hopefully!”
He seems almost surprised by the realisation. Was this not his plan all along?
“I wish it was deliberate, I wish I’d been that clever,” he says with a laugh. “If you work very hard and you have good people around you, these things have a good chance. There’s not been a grand plan, it just feels like it’s evolved organically.”
So has Grant finally found the job he’ll stick with? “As much as it’s been enjoyable, it’s been incredibly hard. But at the moment I’m enjoying this a lot,” he says, calmly adding: “I’m too old to do anything else.”