The pursuit of a style less ordinary

Timothy Barber
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LAST week Patrick Grant was the director of a medium-sized Savile Row tailor’s and creator of a little-known, ready-to-wear offshoot that had been causing ripples in fashion circles. This week, after being crowned Menswear Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards – a shock victory over the likes of Paul Smith and a flying-high Burberry – his picture has been all over the national press, while his pronouncements on men’s style have been the subject of feverish Today programme discussions and broadsheet articles.

That’s because, after the awards, Grant – who owns and manages Norton & Sons on Savile Row, and relaunched a lost tailoring brand, E Tautz, as a ready-to-wear label two years ago – was quoted criticising the scruffiness of British men, citing Prince Charles as an example of a good dresser. “I got myself into a bit of hot water,” he laughingly admits.

And, of course, it’s easy on the face of it to dismiss such statements as being the product of an inward world of Savile Row snobbery. But given the chance to explain his comments, Grant – sat in his office surrounded by the vintage bric-a-brac which inspires his ideas, and sporting one of the bowties that are a hallmark of the Tautz style – makes some salient points.

“In this country we had a tradition of creating great movements in style, from agenda-setting royals like Edward VII to teddy boys, mods, even the New Romantics,” he says. “That was wiped out in the ‘80s – for the last two decades we’ve had this lowest common denominator uniform of jeans, t-shirts and dress down Fridays, and it’s created a very drab pallet.

“That is what’s conservative now,” he continues, pointing out that the East End, from where he cycles to Mayfair each day, is now full of hipsters in tweed, bowties and brogues, while even the hip hop community has adopted a natty sartorial look. “Top Shop is selling Harris Tweed jackets and its suit department in London is going crazy, and Moss Bros is doing bespoke. This idea that dressing well and dressing smartly is pompous or conservative needs shooting down.”

What’s more, the collections Grant and his cohorts are putting together under the E Tautz banner are a beautiful melding of snappy English style – the pieces are handmade by independent British craftspeople from superior UK cloths – with a cheeky sensibility that’s part Just William, part Phileas Fogg. ‘A uniform for a life less ordinary’ is the adopted Tautz motto, and it inspires an aesthetic that’s more interesting and playful than one might expect from someone steeped in the venerable ways of Savile Row.

But that’s because Grant is not. A former marketing professional in the technology industry and sartorial enthusiast – he says he used to spend £2,000 a month on clothes – he was studying for an Executive MBA at Oxford University’s Said Business School when he chanced upon a newspaper notice advertising the sale of Norton & Sons.

The tailor’s had fallen on hard times, and after discussing things with his professors, bringing in a few friends as investors and securing a government-backed loan from the bank, he bought it in 2005. Initially having to step in to assist the business’s single, part-time cutter himself, Grant has transformed Norton’s into a tailor’s attracting the most fashionable high-flyers, and tripled turnover. There are now nine cutters employed in the workshop.

But Grant, 38, had ideas beyond the confines of Savile Row formalwear. E Tautz, itself once a big name on the Row and maker of garments for Winston Churchill, was originally founded by Edward Tautz as a military and sporting tailors (Tautz was the inventor of knickerbocker breeches). Nortons bought it in the ‘50s and the name faded from view. So Grant dusted it down and re-launched it as a more sporty clothes brand, whose products can be found in Harrods and Selfridges, as well as Barney’s in New York, plus shops in Japan and South Korea.

This week, E Tautz has launched the Curiosity Shop – a section of its website (which also sells the label’s high-spec shirts and accessories) where you can find antique Dinky cars, ink pots, tie pins and other vintage ephemera that Grant has sourced. It’s all part of his delightfully playful take on English style.

“We celebrate that interesting, even barking mad side of Englishness,” says Grant. “This is about saying ‘I’m an Englishman and I have style’, and that’s part of our heritage and cultural identity. It’s happening, but it needs to spread.”