‘We want to keep one foot in the Savile Row tradition, yet still have the freedom to explore all the possibilities of London menswear. Doing it any other way would be dull,’ says the impeccably dressed designer Patrick Grant, currently bestriding both the hip British style scene and the world of fine London tailoring. He’s a winner of Menswear Designer of the Year, and a front-row regular, but his is no ordinary fashion-industry success story. Grant was an engineer, wielding semiconductors and ‘big beefy cables’ up in the northwest of England, before he decided he needed a change, and went back to university to do a masters in business administration.
It was while he was there that he saw an advert regarding the sale of Norton & Sons, a once esteemed but by then down-on-its-luck bespoke tailors. He sold his house and his car, convinced the bank to lend him the rest, and by the end of 2005 he owned a 250-year-old Savile Row institution, which he’s been nursing back to vigour ever since.
‘The first thing we did was take the business back to what it was good at and only what it was good at, which was bespoke tailoring,’ says Grant. That meant no more guns or safari kit. ‘It also meant not being ashamed of what we are, which is a really small tailors, hand-making things in Britain, with British cloth.’
All this meant that Grant had to stay away from ready-to-wear, in order not to compromise his brand’s reputation. Conveniently, however, along with Norton & Sons came various of the firm’s own acquisitions, including E Tautz, a previously dynamic sportswear house that Grant has brought back to life via a series of collections that blend sharp tailoring and bright bold colours, creating a distinctive modern look that sells all over the world.
‘Edward Tautz was a great moderniser and a great pusher of tailoring,’ says Grant. ‘And our E Tautz is a tailored collection at heart but one that uses material and colour in an interesting way – doing things, basically, that are not straightforward Savile Row.’ This fresh approach stops Grant from getting mired in the inertia of other London tailors, and allows him to revel in the city’s uninhibited scene. ‘Because it’s a smaller fashion capital that isn’t full of established names, menswear has a freedom. Our menswear has demonstrated that fashion can have a sense of humour – it’s more interesting than Milan or Paris.’ We couldn’t agree more.
Norton & Sons bespoke suits, from £3,500; email@example.com; www.nortonandsons.co.uk