A return to the pure and simple
Patrick Grant appears sickeningly akin to a paradigm of the ideal 21stcentury man. He’s straightbacked, cyclist-trim, runs his own business(es), is Robert Donat-ishly handsome, dresses like a matinee idol, and – as any Great British Sewing Bee viewer can attest – is passionate about haberdashery. To that portfolio I can add that he is compulsively tidy: Clara, my photographer colleague, tangibly melts as Grant bustles purposefully sink-wards the moment her tea cup is done with. If he didn’t share this spotless London flat with girlfriend Katie Hillier – an extremely successful accessories designer – then he’d surely be top of those Tatler “boys worth bagging” lists.
The Sewing Bee has recently propelled Grant to a prominence wider than that he enjoys in the niche milieu of British fashion. There will be a third series, to be screened, Grant thinks, perhaps early next year. It has already been filmed to accommodate the demands of Claudia Winkleman’s Strictly Come Dancing and fringemaintenance schedule. Grant cannot discuss the show in detail – loose lips sink ships – but is jolly proud of his involvement. “Anything that encourages a rise in skill levels amongst sewers is great. We’ve seen little factories opening up, people restarting businesses. We used to have a big sewing industry in this country – 75,000 people – and today it is about 30,000. But all the designers I know working in London would prefer their clothes to be made locally, so they wouldn’t have to deal with the Italians or the French.”
Fame has its perks, Grant confesses. For his winter E Tautz collection, Grant wanted to incorporate embroidery. “So I emailed the Royal School of Needlework and said, ‘My name is Patrick, I work for a brand called E Tautz and I wonder if you could help.’ An email came straight back: ‘We love Sewing Bee! We’d be delighted to!’”
Now 42, Grant has been fastidious about his appearance since infancy. “Aged five on my first day at school I remember I had to have my socks up but turned down, my tie right in the middle of the V of my jumper. And I gave myself a haircut in the mirror of the bathroom. My mother thought that was hilarious – obviously it was a disaster.” That was in South Morningside. At Edinburgh Academy he relished his second-hand green Harris Tweed blazers (“but now they’ve got rid of them – it’s shocking”) and saved for the “slightly hairy” Jennersbought Burberry blazer he wore at boarding school in Co Durham. At 16 he began buying “fashion” – “it was Paul Smith at first” – at Corniche in Edinburgh: “they had Jean Paul Gaultier, and Destroy John Richmond, a bit of Vivienne Westwood…”
After studying engineering at Leeds, Grant worked in marketing for a cable-maker before moving to a components-manufacturer that encouraged him to study for an MBA at Saïd Business School in Oxford. There, in a discarded copy of the Financial Times, he chanced upon his destiny: a “for sale” ad offering the Savile Row tailoring house Norton & Sons. This 193year-old business – tailor to Kaiser Wilhelm I, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant and the Duke of Edinburgh – was at a low ebb. Grant bought it and since 2005 has led the revival of the business, as well as the development of two more labels.
There is E Tautz for high fashion, and Hammond & Co for the high street – which is collaborating with Debenhams. The department store approached him pre- Bee, says Grant, “about doing something much smaller in terms of scope. I went back to them with a proposal for something much broader, largely based on the fact that I felt there has been a swing back to wearing more tailored clothing; simpler, smarter, better quality but less overtly fashionable.” There was, he believed, a gap in the market for affordable, well-executed classic tailoring and informal wear instead of what Grant regretfully describes as “all that nasty looking, low-slung, short-jacketed kind of suiting”. Hammond & Co has done extremely well for Debenhams so far, which Grant modestly ascribes to its simplicity rather than any bells and whistles. “Sometimes with designer collaborations people try to do too much – they want to parade the ‘designerness’ of the clothes. What we did with Hammond & Co was strip everything back and go for simple pieces of clothing, with all the money put into the fabric and the construction. I think most people would rather have a better quality of cotton in their shirt rather than three buttons and 12 collars, or whatever.”
Although the clothes are highstreet priced, Grant is as fastidious about their appearance as he is about his own. Debenhams was very tolerant of his myriad tweaks and alterations. With great force, after a few minutes of wide-ranging discourse about trouser waists, he declares: “I can’t stand it when you see a gap between the waistcoat and the trousers.” Grant cares so deeply about clothes that he says he feels “slightly weird all day” if he leaves the house unsure about the colour of his socks. And he mastered the rare knack of making the classic not appear too fuddy-duddy. So as a cipher for us, the legion of less talented dressers, Grant rather perfectly cuts the mustard.