Fashion designer and director of Savile Row’s Norton & Sons and judge of The Great British Sewing Bee, Patrick Grant talks filming, fashion and future plans…
Ahead of his first show with Create and Craft TV, we caught up with Patrick at the Singer sewing machine press event to find out more about the man behind the Bee.
Speaking of the early days of his career, Grant admitted that sewing wasn’t his background. “My background is in Engineering. I studied Material Science and Engineering at University and then worked in manufacturing in engineering and technology”.
After taking over Norton & Sons in 2005, Grant has been credited with rejuvenating the once ailing business. Asked why he took over the Savile Row tailor, he explained, “It was an odd coincidence. I had gone back to uni after working for nine years and came across an advertisement in the businesses for sale section of the Financial Times. It was just a small postage stamp size advert saying ‘For Sale: Please write to 16 Savile Row.’ So, I wrote to them, one thing led to another; I went to visit Norton’s and fell in love with it! I sold my house, my car and everything else as well as borrowed from a bank and raised money with friends, I then took the plunge and bought it.”
“Even though I had never really done sewing, I was always really interested in clothes, had always been obsessive about what I wore and spent a lot of time and money on clothes. When I started at Norton’s I had to learn absolutely everything about the business, from learning how to make trousers and fit a suit to organising the workshop and directing the staff. For a long time I lived in the workshop; I worked there for six days a week for the first six years. However, I wasn’t training to be a tailor; that wasn’t my job at Norton’s. Our tailors train every day for 5 years before they’re even allowed to touch a garment so by no means do I call myself a Savile Row tailor and I’m always very careful to tell people that. It’s a real craft, you become certified and it’s a dedicated career choice.
When I took over it was very, very small with just one tailor and one part-time cutter and we were barely making anything. Most of my time was spent at the workshop being an under cutter for about six months until I hired a full-time cutter and built the company up.
Grant described how “it was a business in terrible shape; a wonderful artisanal tailor not making the best of its assets”. Over three years, he managed to rejuvenate the business by focusing on its heritage and increasing innovation and enthusiasm among management. “We now have a much bigger business with three different brands and a clothing factory.”
He relaunched the defunct E. Tautz & Sons as a ready to wear label in 2009, for which he was awarded the Menswear Designer award at the British Fashion Awards in 2010. He has also been working with Barbour as Creative Director of their Beacon Heritage line since October 2012, and in April 2013 it was announced that Grant would be relaunching the Norton subsidiary Hammond & Co. as a diffusion line. In April 2015 he also bought an old sewing factory, Cookson and Clegg in Blackburn and is attempting to restore it.
The sewing factory restoration, entitled ‘ The Community Clothing Project’ is Grant’s own not-for-profit initiative, launched in an effort to support the UK textile industry. “I looked at why the factory was failing and it was due to a big seasonal swing in demand – at certain times of the year they are flat out and then in others, they are empty. You need to have it going all year round for it to succeed.”
“Coupled with the fact that people in this county would like to buy British made clothes but currently they are sold at premium prices, it struck me that we have all this spare capacity and lots of demand– so why not set up a brand which acts as a manufacturers’ cooperative – this brand we’re calling Community Clothing. Basically, it takes all that spare capacity and we make really simple everyday items for men and women– blue chinos, v neck jumpers, simple trench coats, 5 pocket jeans and sell them directly at everyday high-street prices, cutting out the wholesaler and retailer.”
Asked if he would enter the Sewing Bee, he said, “I don’t do very much sewing but the sewing which I do, I’m not bad at. I’m very meticulous and I know how to use a machine, plus I’ve got good fabric handling skills. What I lack though is that I don’t do it very often.”
“It’s funny, when you watch the Sewing Bee you get some who are very good and some who are inexperienced but are naturally gifted. For many of them, GBSB is often the most sewing they’ve ever done in one go so you see a huge improvement. They are spending two full says sewing which makes the standard excellent. Anne (from the first series) was genuinely brilliant at absolutely everything – I’d have given her a job!”
“You can spot early on in the series who the good ones are. However, in the last series, Neil was easily the best sewer but he made a hash of it in the final. 2 weeks before the final, Neil had won all of the three challenges and he made one of the best kilts I have ever seen. I was wearing a kilt from one of Scotland’s best kilt makers and his kilt was pretty much the same standard. That was definitely the best quality garment out of all three series. I don’t think any of us predicted that Matt would have won it because he was one of the ones who has a little less experience than some but he got better and better and better and he had two fantastic days in the final.”
Speaking of the imminent series, he said “The contestants look good; they look like an interest bunch. We’ve started filming this week and that runs through until Easter and it will be broadcast at the beginning on May.
Be sure to tune in to Create and Craft TV at 5pm on 25th February, as Grant will be partnering up with previous Sewing Bee contestant Jenniffer Taylor to bring you a spectacular sew down!