These days, so many clothing companies claim that their products are the ‘real thing’, ‘100% authentic’ or ‘the genuine article’ that the phrases have become practically meaningless. When the advertising – and the label – promise a world of French or Italian glamour and sophistication it can be a bit galling to discover that a suit or shirt was actually made in a large, faceless factory and not in the atelier of a master craftsman.
It is then, a refreshing change to see the relaunch earlier this year, of historic British men’s sportswear label, E. Tautz. If the name promises a world of classic style, inspired by the likes of the Duke of Windsor. Then the collections so far, have delivered; High-quality cloths from around the British Isles have been used and the pieces are cut and tailored in Savile Row at the home of Tautz parent, the bespoke tailors, Norton & Sons. Indeed, Patrick Grant, the suave head of the 187 year-old company described the ready-to-wear collection as being ‘.. as close to a bespoke product as we can make a suit without actually making it for one person’.
Continue reading after the jump.
Swipelife caught up with Grant in London recently where he told us about the Autumn/Winter 09 collection, why he chose to create it entirely in Britain, where the inspiration for its rugged, long-lasting style came from and his opinion on the state of British menswear.
How did you become involved with E. Tautz and the world of Savile Row?
It was an accident really, well, not an accident. A fabulous coincidence. I stumbled upon it completely by chance. I was at Oxford finishing off an MBA and a friend of mine was supposed to meet me for lunch. He called to say he couldn’t come, so I grabbed a copy of the Financial Times and sat and read it because there was nothing else to read. I got as far as the ‘Businesses for sale’ section and there happened to be an advert on that one day for Norton & Sons. There was just a little advert that said ‘Bespoke tailor for sale, 16 Savile Row. Contact Mr. Granger by letter’. That’s as much as it was planned. There was no planning whatsoever. It was just completely fortuitous.
I came and met the owner and came to the shop and looked around and having never worked in clothing before I just fell in love with the place. I’d always been very interested in craft and making things, I’d always worked in manufacturing companies and I’d always been very interested in clothes but I’d never thought ever, to work in the clothing and tailoring industry.
Looking at how you make things currently, how important is it that all of the Tautz range is made in the UK?
There are two things that are really important to Tautz; one of them is its history, where it has come from as a firm, what it has done and how that colours what it is doing now but also, very directly, the provenance of the pieces we make. How we make things, where we make them, what they are made from and everything that is associated with the way we put them together and the way we deliver them is very, very important to us.
Tautz’ history is certainly fascinating, it started as a maker of Sporting and Military clothing didn’t it?
That’s right they started as a sporting tailors. It’s very interesting to see the evolution of that firm from the 1860s through to the 1950s. They started very much as a sporting tailoring house – they actually started as britches makers, sporting britches makers.
We were military and sporting tailor to Churchill. We made his uniforms for the Hussars but we also made his sports clothes. He was a racing and polo fanatic and we made things like white, cashmere racing britches and chocolate and pink satin racing jackets and matching hats and things like that for him. We were sportswear when gentlemen did sports in the kind of clothes that Americans now call sportswear. That is wear Tautz came from.
In the current incarnation of Tautz it is very central to the way that we put everything together. The way we think about our clothes is very much coloured by that sporting and military heritage.
What is the difference between Tautz and its parent, Norton & Sons?
Norton & Sons is a bespoke tailors on Savile Row. It has one shop. There is one sole address on our letterhead. That is the only place you can buy Norton & Sons clothing. Everything that you buy from us is made by us there. That is the way it will always be. We are completely unapologetic about the fact that if you want to come and have a suit from us you are going to have to come and see us at least four, possibly five times. You are going to have to wait three, possibly four months at the moment for your first suit. This is something that is very special and we want to keep it exactly the way that it is.
Will we be able to buy the Tautz range at 16 Savile Row?
The plan with Tautz in the immediate future is that it will be sold through existing high-end stores. We are in Harrods this season and the plan is that we will sell Tautz in the best retailers in the best cities around the world. Longer term, it is perfectly conceivable that we would consider having a Tautz store in London. Tautz is never going to be Paul Smith though, it’s a very different product. It’s as close to a bespoke product as we can make a suit without actually making it for a person.
Is that traditional understanding of sportswear where the inspiration for the knitwear, with its bright colours and distinctive badges comes from?
Ah! That comes from a very particular piece of English public school history! Back in the early part of the twentieth century, schoolboys all had white rugby jumpers. They would hand-sew badges onto their jumpers to distinguish one house from the other. We’ve got a couple of old emblems from Rugby school from the twenties, one of them has a skull and crossbones and of them has a knights helmet with a giant plume. There’s a photograph of the Winchester school rugby team in our archive, they are all wearing badges on their shirts. It’s an amazing image. We all really liked it. They are done in a sort of naïve way. They are cut out by hand and sewn on by hand. So that’s how we do ours. It was a fun link back to our, slightly aristocratic, sporting heritage. We like to have little details like that.
The badges on the jumpers all come from either the royal warrants or the family crests of old customers. One of them is a castle that comes from the King of Spain’s royal warrant, one of them is a club, from the Emperor of Austria’s royal warrant, one is a Martlet and one of them is a fox. The fox comes from our sign and the Martlet comes from another customers coat of arms. They are all heraldic symbols.
Is that wear the symbols on the knitwear come from? Was that a conscious decision not to brand the clothes heavily?
Tautz has a logo that was created in, well, we don’t know exactly when, but it first appears in Tautz adverts in the middle of the 1880s. We have an advert from 1886 but there may be earlier ones. They advertised all the time and at some point when we have the chance it would be nice to put together a complete archive. However, in 1886 the monogram is there and in use. It’s ‘E T & S’ but the ‘E’ is a pair of spurs and the ‘T’ is a riding whip, the tail of the whip forms the ampersand and the leather straps on the spurs form the ‘S’. It’s just such a beautifully created piece. If at any point we do decide to do something that is logo’d in that way I think we would always fall back to the Tautz monogram.
I don’t wear logo’d clothing and haven’t done since I was in my late teens. We use those emblems (on the knitwear) as embellishment, as part of the design rather than as a recognition of who has made them. I think that is appropriate. Emblazoning things with logos is not what we are about. We are about simple, elegant clothes and not excessive showiness.
You have relaunched Tautz with a ready-to-wear range, do you intend it to be an entry for people into the world of bespoke clothing?
I don’t think of it as an entry to Savile Row. I think of it more as an entry into a world of well cut, beautifully made, suits and clothing. It’s not like we’re consciously trying to draw people into Savile Row. I hope what it might do though, is make people think differently about suits, jackets and that type of clothing as part of their normal wardrobe.
When would I wear a Tautz suit? The pieces seem less formal, is it intended as casualwear?
Oh all the time, when you are not doing actual athletic activities. You can wear the suits to work. We do have beautiful, simple charcoal flannel, charcoal worsted or navy blue suits that are absolutely, perfectly correct for wearing to work, wherever it is you might work. Also, we are cutting beautiful trousers and jackets. I am wearing a pair of trousers and a jacket today and I would be perfectly happy wearing this out in the evening or away at the weekend. I wear shoes, trousers and jackets, when it’s very hot I wear unstructured, lightweight jackets and when it’s very cold I wear thicker, heavier ones. I dress, much as I am dressed today, pretty much all the time. I think men have lost sight of how much fun it is to be well dressed. It’s actually really fun to spend a little bit of time every morning putting your clothes on, picking tie, picking a handkerchief, choosing a shirt from your wardrobe, picking a jacket and a pair of trousers and putting it all together and feeling great in your wardrobe. It’s really a lovely thing to do each day. A lot of people don’t ever have that pleasure, they’ll put on a pair of jeans and a white shirt and will look perfectly good but won’t feel special about what they’re wearing. It’s actually really, really fun and people look at you and people appreciate that you’ve done that. I think it shows greater respect for people as well. When someone goes out for dinner in the evening and doesn’t dress up, I think it’s really sad. Girls love to get dressed up and really enjoy the process of making themselves look beautiful in their clothes. It seems like men are almost embarrassed to be well-dressed. It feels like it’s too much, or you’ve tried too hard.
We are very fortunate on Savile Row to have the most incredibly dressed men coming into our shop. They are very inspiring to me, I have changed the way I dress a lot in the last four years. I used to wear a dark suit, a light shirt and a dark tie and that was pretty much it. It always looked quite smart but you could never say I was well-dressed, just reasonably smartly dressed.
We have so many clients that are just beautifully dressed. The combination of the colour and pattern of their shirts, the colour and pattern of their suit and their tie and cufflinks and their handkerchief, a little speck of colour in the sock that is also in the tie. Little things like that that are such a joy to do. We get so little time to do nice things for ourselves most of the time. It’s almost like a little, quiet personal moment. I think when people are so busy, they ought to take a little time just to… I mean, I am frantically busy but I really love taking the time to do that.
Many other menswear companies place great emphasis on accessorising the male wardrobe. The Tautz collection includes a small range of leather goods, is that something you think you will expand upon?
Essentially, at the moment, it is a clothing range. If we are successful in selling the clothing and the stores that we are selling to like what we’re doing, then of course, we will consider doing cufflinks or small leather goods but we are a sporting and military tailors and that’s what we are going to base our business on. There’s lots of things that ultimately we could do but for the time being we are going to stick to this. We are a small house, we’ve got limited resources and I think we’ll stick to doing what we’re best at.
Lastly: Why did you decide to relaunch Tautz now?
Why now? Until we restarted Tautz, there wasn’t a really good English, menswear house. Italy has a few, Brioni, Kiton and Isaia. There’s Hermes and Louis Vuitton in France, or Tom Ford in America. But there was nothing in the UK. It’s almost as if people were afraid to do anything too close to Savile Row because of a fear of unfavourable comparisons. We’ve got Savile Row which is a beautiful institution and creates undoubtedly the best menswear anywhere, but beneath that you’ve got this enormous leap, all the way down to Burberry and Dunhill and the ready-to-wear lines from the other Savile Row houses who all decided, for whatever reason, to throw away everything that they hold dear in their own bespoke business and mass-make their suits off-shore, using lesser quality materials .
I just didn’t understand it. We know all about beautiful cloths and how to manufacture and how to cut fabulous clothes, so it seemed obvious that if we ever did something ready-to-wear we would do that. It just seemed to me there was a great big hole there. I think there is a market for it, I think British and European and American men like British style, and there is a certain population within that total group that have the money to pay for the very best of that and of those, some will come to Savile Row and have their suits made, but many, either because of reasons of geography or time, or both, can’t come to Savile Row four or five times a year to have their clothes made and they want something immediately. That’s what we aim to provide.
Patrick Grant, thank you very much. The E. Tautz Autumn/Winter 09 collection will be available in store at Matches and Harrods in August.
Also, please visit: www.etautz.com for more information on the line.