Patrick Grant is in the studio of his ready-to-wear brand E Tautz, leafing through Winston Churchill’s old bill. Edward Tautz had founded the label in 1867, and a twentysomething Churchill was a customer. “This is a summary of his bill,” says Grant. “It goes from February 16 1895 to May 4 1899 – and was never paid.” The garments ordered were particularly elaborate. “Elastic dress pants with gold lace. Cashmere racing breeches. Chocolate satin racing jacket with pink sleeves. Chocolate satin racing cap. When Churchill was a young guy, he was a fit cavalry officer who played polo. That was Tautz’s heritage – sporting gear.”
Cut to 2015, and Grant’s incarnation of Tautz is focusing on sportswear of a different kind. This year the brand, which he relaunched in 2009, won the British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Menswear Fund – worth £150,000 – for the sort of casualwear that men love, such as zip-up jackets (example pictured on final page, £649), knitted wool jumpers (£195), cashmere hoodies (example pictured overleaf, £485) and roomy khaki trousers (example pictured on final page, £230); in other words, well-priced designer clothing that is both functional and approachable.
“E Tautz has become a major player on the menswear scene and one of the stars of London Collections: Men,” says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. “Patrick’s inherent commercial awareness, combined with the financial and mentoring support of the BFC/GQ Designer Menswear Fund, will elevate the business, placing it more firmly on the global stage.”
It is a brand that has consolidated its position since it opened its store in Mayfair in October 2014, quickly finding a loyal customer base whose taste and habits are now informing the design process. Grant has found some celebrity as one of the judges on BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee, but his focus is on clothing itself and his modern take on the old-fashioned art of being a proud shopkeeper.
The E Tautz design studio is in an old Thames-side warehouse in east London, in the same building where they filmed the recent series of Sewing Bee. Grant’s team is small but dedicated. As well as the studio and E Tautz store, he has the factory that he bought in Blackburn in May, which manufactures most of his products. His is a story of dedication, and the ambition to establish firm roots in both the heritage of craft and the pleasures of buying men’s clothing.
But the story really begins with Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons, which Grant acquired in 2005, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. He rejuvenated Norton’s by staying true to bespoke and engaging with its loyal customer base, while also bringing a new clientele to the Row. “There came a point when stores were asking us to do Norton & Sons ready-to-wear,” he says, “but I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep the brand’s focus on bespoke.” This went against the grain of many prominent Savile Row brands, such as Gieves & Hawkes, Ozwald Boateng and Richard James, which sell off-the-peg clothing as a spin-off from their bespoke core.
Then, in Nortons’ archives, Grant discovered the forgotten history of Edward Tautz, whose by-now-redundant brand E Tautz had come with the bespoke business, having been acquired during the 1960s. “Tautz helped revolutionise sportswear; he invented knickerbockers – plus-fours and plus-twos,” he says. “In one of his adverts he talks about successfully fighting a legal battle with someone who had infringed his patent for knickerbocker breeches.” Tautz was a big fan of developing innovative new fabrics for sportswear; he had a shop on Oxford Street and one opposite the Elysée Palace in Paris. “It was a full-scale purveyor of everything a sporting chap might need.
“Tautz seemed to have more of the feel of a ready-to-wear business than Nortons,” adds Grant, who debuted his take on the brand in February 2009 at a time when London’s menswear was finding its feet – the men’s shows tagged on to the end of women’s fashion week. “We did a little presentation on six mannequins,” he says. “Some tailoring, shirts, ties and Shetland jumpers.”
As London’s menswear scene has evolved and grown, so has E Tautz. It took a while for Grant to find the right identity for the brand, sometimes veering too far towards “fashion”, other times bowing to pressure from stores that wanted premium but bland clothing. In the end, simplicity won out. “I started making clothes I wanted to wear,” he says. “We did a collection of military coats in big tweed checks. It was much simpler. The penny dropped.”
Around that time, I remember bumping into Grant in Savile Row. He was wearing the most extraordinary trousers, wide without being over-the-top, casual but sharp. I wanted a pair. He said they were a vintage army find and he’d do a version in the next collection. “These have been a huge seller,” says Grant. “We launched them at the spring 2015 show in khaki [example pictured overleaf, £230] and denim [worn by Grant on previous pages, £230]; now we offer them in six fabrics. Some customers have them in four colours with two pairs of each colour, in case one is in the wash. I only wear these trousers now, unless I’m in a [Norton’s bespoke] suit.” I personally have two pairs in denim and khaki. If I wear them, someone always asks where I got them. They are significant for many reasons, not least because they are in no way designed for skinny young men. “They fit normal-sized guys,” says Grant. “I’m not skinny but I like to look good in my clothes.” And his experience in bespoke has taught him much about male sizing. “I appreciate what it takes to cut clothes. Our core customer is 35, 40 plus, and our clothes make them look good.”
The continued success of the trousers shows a shift in focus to long-term product, rather than on pieces that change from season to season. “Opening your own store means that you find out your customers are often those who just want a jumper and a nice pair of trousers,” says Grant. “They’re not living in a state of high catwalk style.”
The E Tautz store is on Duke Street, in a previously dead shopping zone just south of Selfridges. Investment from owners Grosvenor Estate has made the street more desirable, while Corbin & King’s Beaumont Hotel, a block away, has brought its own high-spending footfall. “We know our customers enjoy coming here, because lots come back,” says Grant. “These are men who like clothes, and for them E Tautz is a safe space.” His customers are from impressive fields. When I was there a few months ago, the manager was dealing with one client who bought a large selection of clothing. He left his business card after he paid – he was a senior executive at French luxury behemoth Kering, owner of brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Brioni.
Crucially, the store’s sales are aiding the design process. “The lightweight sporty pieces have flown out,” says Grant, “so we are adding more styles in technical wool/nylons [such as zip jackets; example pictured right, £649] and silk/polyesters [such as trench coats; example pictured top left, £795] with a sporty feel. The boundaries between sportswear and luxury men’s clothing are becoming blurred.” It’s fascinating to hear Grant come to this conclusion – what counts for many men is decent clothing, not necessarily all the trappings of luxury products. “I look at a brand like Margaret Howell; it’s uncomplicated in the extreme. They’re great clothes you can really like and wear,” he says.
The recent move into manufacturing was unexpected. “I got an email in February from one of our best suppliers, a factory in Blackburn called Cookson & Clegg – it was stopping taking orders, letting people go and running the books down. So we bought it.” Grant took over the factory in May. It produces clothes for many British brands other than E Tautz, including Albam and Margaret Howell, which have been supportive, holding back on transferring their orders to see if Cookson could survive. The E Tautz catwalk pieces for the spring/summer 2016 show were all made in the factory, bar the knitwear.
And Grant has even more ambitious, philanthropic plans. His new not-for-profit label Community Clothing will make affordable basics during the downtime of UK factories, helping to preserve the industry. “UK factories are very much driven by seasonal demand,” he says, noting that high-street brands manufacture their relentlessly produced stock abroad. “Here, for four to six months a year, the factories are really quiet. The idea is to mop up that spare capacity by making great, simple clothes and selling them for no profit, allowing everyone to keep their jobs and maybe create new jobs.”
For local communities, and British manufacturing in general, it is a laudable move. For Grant, it could prove very clever, as a disconnection from manufacturing is a reason why British menswear struggled in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With its own factory, E Tautz can guarantee consistency and quality, words too rarely heard in fashion. “We’ve got a good design studio, we have a factory and a shop. I think if you have all that and you do the right thing, hopefully that means a business that thrives. It feels like it’s going in the right direction.”