“A ready-to-wear business and a bespoke business are not the same thing,” businessman-come-designer Patrick Grant tells me as we sit in the basement level of his fashion label E. Tautz’s store on Duke Street, London. “Although Norton’s and E. Tautz share a lot of customers, I think the way you tell a story and the way you present the brand, for example what they stand for and so on, are completely different things. At Norton’s and E. Tautz, we attempt to make the best product possible. We don’t think about cost, rather, we think about execution and quality and I think that boils down to my education in engineering and my desire to make lovely things. Both brands use the best materials the best method of manufacturing that they can.”
Over the past 11 years, Grant has established himself as one of the fashion industry’s savviest and most design-driven figureheads. Impressively, he has taken two English brands with a combined heritage that amounts to some 344 years, and injected a new lease life, design philosophy and overall direction into each of them. Both brands were seemingly disappearing into fashion-limbo, but, thanks to Grant’s shrewd approach to differentiating two different classic British heritage brands from the crowd, they are now both going from ‘strength to strength’.
One of the most interesting things about Grant is that he owns thriving businesses which sit across the whole fashion industry spectrum; bespoke tailor Norton & Sons, located on 16 Savile Row; luxury ready-to-wear high-fashion label E. Tautz, which in 2010 won the British Fashion Council’s Menswear Designer of the Year award (and has since won a few more prizes of a similar ilk); and finally, high-street label Hammond & Co., which offers modern sartorial classics at a very affordable price point. Juggling all three (plus an outerwear manufacturer in Blackburn which he has also rescued) is no easy feat. Indeed, one gets the impression that he’s a modern day fashion-industry polymath, overseeing multiple businesses from a commercial perspective and also keeping his finger on the pulse of their creative output. He must have gone to fashion school you ask? Not quite. He learned how to be an engineer and “design turbine blades and brake discs for cars” but found his way into the fashion industry almost by instinct: “Really simply, I love clothes, I love handmade beautiful things and I love heritage and history.”
“Really simply, I love clothes, I love handmade beautiful things and I love heritage and history.”
Norton & Sons, founded in 1821, was in dire straits come 2005, yet Mr Grant plays down the state of the firm when he took it, preferring to say simply that it was just in need of “a bit of TLC”. It’s important to note that Grant sold everything he had to embark on saving Norton’s, borrowing money from friends and family so that he could come to the heritage brand’s rescue, a valiant effort which underlines his love for British craft and heritage. “It was clear that there was a lot that could be improved, not least of which was going back to just doing bespoke tailoring and not selling shotguns and relative equipment.” We do after all have routines as consumers. We go to certain places for certain things. If you want a gun you will go to Purdey, Holland & Holland or Beretta. You’re not going to buy a gun from us.”
Evidently, Grant realised the issue at hand and quickly resolved matters by keeping things simple. He set out the aim of “returning to being a really, really good bespoke tailors.” Jump forward 11 years and that simple game plan has paid off, Grant informs me that they’re “about three times the size now.” The house now only offers bespoke suits with a refined, contemporary English cut and Grant’s involvement in the firm has seen a slight refinement of the house’s style that has clearly reaped rich rewards. This is also undeniably due to the success of their recently promoted head-cutter, Nick Hammond. Interestingly enough, Norton’s ongoing success has been achieved by completely ignoring the power of advertising, celebrity brand ambassadors and PR. “We allow word of mouth to be our advertising,” says Grant, which, as we all know, is the most effective way of doing so. “Genuinely,” Grant tells me, “we have customers from across the world who have come to our little store on Savile Row. It was nice to finally think about that, that our little shop in this quiet street in London had such a global customer-base, having never spent a penny on advertising in our entire existence.”