A re­turn to the pure and sim­ple

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

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.


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