Interview: Patrick Grant, Norton & Sons

A perennial topic on this site, and indeed other style fora, is how customers interact with their tailors when they have their first suit made.

The customer thinks he knows what he wants but he can’t quite express it – at least not in the terminology the tailor would use. And the tailor tries to divine the customer’s wishes from every source he has available: what he is already wearing, his facial expressions, his reactions to suggestions and things he tries on.

It’s a difficult process and one that takes time, hence the need for several fittings. Permanent Style spoke to Patrick Grant, owner of Norton & Sons on Savile Row, about this quandary as part of a series of pieces in a new project called Gentleman’s Corner (details to be divulged next week).

Among other things, Patrick agreed that tailors often resort to using house styles or fit generalisations (classic, slim, skinny) because of this very inability to communicate.


Permanent Style: What proportion of customers know enough about what they want when they walk in and answer all your questions?

Patrick Grant: Not many, is the honest answer. A lot of people have a good idea of how they would like to look. And a lot of them know that they like what they end up wearing, but that’s about it.

They know when the results are good. They can feel the difference from what they had before – but they won’t be able to say that the difference is because there is an inch more suppression in the waist, or the jacket is a touch longer. They know where they want to get to, but they can’t necessarily articulate how to get there.

PS: Is that first conversation difficult then?

PG: When you go into the fitting room, David [Ward, head cutter] will measure you up and have this conversation with you. It starts off a little bit broadly: ‘How would you liked this coat to be cut? Shaped, in a classic English style?’ And the customer will reply: ‘Well yes, quite shaped. But not too shaped.’

PS: So no answer at all then.

PG: Sure, but then it gets more focused, and the customer will say he doesn’t want it very fitted, really skinny. He’ll express one preference and then another, and we ease towards a vision.

Some people are also very happy to say ‘you’re the experts, you cut me a suit that is going to make me look as good as I can’. But it’s a process that takes a lot of time. On the first suit this conversation is repeated in three, sometimes four fittings. And the conversation becomes a little easier when there’s a coat to talk about and point to.

The first meeting is a little vague, but actually nine times out of ten we get it pretty right.

PS: Is it fair to say that one reason some tailors have a house style is that the customer knows what he is getting and has probably come there for that reason – saving everyone the first, vague conversation?

PG: Yes, I think that’s quite right. If you left the shape entirely up to us, you would get a suit that looks like the one on the mannequin in the shop window. That’s why the models are there, so the customer can say ‘that’s what Norton & Sons looks like, that’s what Henry Poole looks like, that’s what Huntsman looks like and this is the one I want to look like.’

PS: Do people come in and just browse sometimes? On this site we have discussed how much men would like to do that more at tailors.

PG: Absolutely, we have people come in and try suits on and have a conversation about the style, just to get an idea. It’s quite normal for people to try three or four tailors before they order.

In fact, we picked up a new customer a few weeks ago that had a suit made at ourselves and two other tailors on the Row, to see which he liked best. I won’t say who the other two were, but he had exactly the same suit, same colour same cloth, just so he could decide which he liked best.

PS: That sounds pretty meticulous. He sounds like he’s going to be a serious customer.

PG: He said he just wanted to find the best tailor for him and be able to make a real comparison.

PS: That’s what makes it hard for many newcomers to this area to get an idea of what they want – not many people, no journalist and no one on the various style sites has tried all the tailors.

PG: That’s fair. And the main reason people switch between tailors, as we’ve seen since I took over, is not an objective comparison like this customer made but just a simple feeling. They’ve been with someone for years and have a good relationship with them, but suddenly something’s just a little wrong. It’s changed and it’s not like it used to be.

Care For Sweaters

Love your cashmere sweaters, or just want to keep yours around forever without destroying them? Understood. Now read on!

Treatments and Washing

• When you get ready to wash your clothes, separate knitwear when you sort laundry. If you throw a sweater in the washing machine, it won’t last long! Anything that could be harmed by catches or snags should be thrown into a protective bag before it gets into the wash.

• Avoid washing sweaters on hot settings, which can damage them pretty severely. And say no to tumble dryers, too! I speak from experience. They can affect wool so severely that the item will shrink beyond recognition.

• Handwash items if you can. It may be time consuming, but it will save your more expensive articles like cashmere.

To Handwash a Sweater
1. Fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water, and follow the instructions on your fine garment wash like Woolite, for example.

2. Swish your hands in the water to create suds, and add your sweater to the water.

3. Soak your sweater for about 20 minutes in the basin.

4. Remove the sweater and rinse it thoroughly.

5. Place the sweater on a clean towel.

6. Fold the towel in half and then roll it.

7. After a few minutes, lay your towel out flat and shape it carefully.

8. Dry your sweater on a sweater rack and let it air dry out of direct sunlight and indoors.

Tip:  Don’t wring out your sweaters, which can permanently distort their shape.

Tip:  You can wash more than one sweater at a time, but just make sure that they’re similar in color.

After Care

• Brush your sweaters once they’re dry. Use a small soft brush on cashmere, acrylic, and lambswool to take care of fluff and hairs. You can also use a lint brush to remove pills.

• While dry cleaning sweaters is definitely an option, it won’t extend the life of your knitwear.

• Iron sweaters on a low setting, and if you iron wool, make sure that you “knead” the sweater once you’re done to set it and prepare it for wearing.

• Storing your sweater? Be sure to wash and dry it before you store it, and then wrap it in acid-free paper before it goes in a special storage box.

Stay away from mothballs. They smell strong, and you can get the same effects from a lavender sweater wash. Both cedar and lavender repel moths, and they’re natural.

Wearing Now: Men’s Runway Trends Fall-Winter 2007-2008

Sometimes runway round-ups can leave you feeling like you’ll be out of style because you can’t find anything that looks quite right, but this fall and winter will bring you something that suits you very, very well. If you’re sporty, refined, or even a combat boots-loving guy, this is your season to work in your personal style.

Ski and Snow Details
Parkas, ‘70s throwback racing stripes, and Fair Isle sweaters have that fun, retro vibe that really works this winter. With an elegant addition of soft fur and bold graphic stripes, you’re styling on and off the slopes.

Don’t be afraid to go totally vintage this season when you rock the ski trend. Comb through vintage shops and even your grandfather’s ski trunk to grab styles that scream Aspen, a-frames, and aviators. To avoid looking too much like a blast from the past, aim for a more modern pair of boots and dark, slim jeans.

On the Runway
Missoni deviated from stripes this season with a snowflake theme, and you’ll feel pretty darn fresh when you pair this sweater with textured wool or corduroy trousers and boots. Michael Bastian also had a rather distinctive ski sweater look for winter, which is available in a way-vintage, traffic-cone orange color with black accents. (Definitely not for the faint of heart.) This runway bright looks great when layered, as it will be toned down and tamed with a darker colored jacket or blazer.

Modern and Combat Styles
Futuristic styles were married with more militaristic looks for fall and winter. Grab a pair of high black boots or more heavyweight lace-up shoes, and sling on a black jacket to complete tough-guy style (even if you’re secretly not). What a way to get some respect!

On the Runway

This is one such case when you’ve got to be able to filter out extremely militaristic styles for just a hint of combat cool. Runway looks varied from Emporio Armani basic, well-shaped pieces, to the more extreme looks of Galliano’s hooded, dark separates. Choose heavyweight, laced boots or a combat-esque jacket, but play it cool and try not to pile on too many items to avoid being confused with a SWAT sniper.

Americana Look

Are you an English gentleman, a hopeless romantic, or a closeted academic type? Tweeds are the perfect touch for fall and winter 2007/2008 if you need something that has structure and strong lines. If softer, more casual looks aren’t your thing, then the tweed trend is just what you need.

If you need budget-friendly additions to your wardrobe, try out plaid wool and houndstooth caps, such as ones from traditionalist-gone-trendy milliner Frenel Morris.

On the Runway

Fair Isle prints are an easy way to steal a look straight off the runway, and what’s simpler than a basic pullover for coordinating with the rest of your closet? Usual suspect is Ralph Lauren. If you’re into the plaid scene instead, check out Paul Smith and Billy Reid, who brought it home with earthy tones and sophisticated silhouettes in coats and jackets

Tips to Keep Clothes Wrinkle Free

Ironing has to be one chore that no one (and really, no one) actually looks forward to. Why don’t we just prevent all the wrinkles from happening so we don’t have to bother anymore? If that sounds like a good idea, read on to find out how to prevent wrinkles from occurring.

Preventing Wrinkles
Preventing wrinkles is an important step, because if you play your cards right when you wash and dry everything, you can pretty much avoid the ironing step all together.

• Hang your clothes well. While we may be tempted to throw our jacket or sweater over an arm of a chair or on the back of a car’s seat, it will leave fold lines that aren’t easy to remove. Stay away from clothes hooks as well!

• Never leave items in the dryer. As soon as they’re completed, take them out of the dryer and get them hanging (on a hanger, please!). Cool air sets wrinkles as items sit in the dryer longer.

• Smooth your clothes with your hands as you remove them from the dryer. If you “pull” out wrinkles the best you can, they will be wearable.

• Avoid folding lightweight items, and hang them instead. If it’s possible, hang everything! Many items have a better chance at being wrinkle-free if they aren’t folded or bunched.

Getting Rid of Wrinkles
These techniques will remove wrinkles without an iron.

• Hang your items in the bathroom when you’re taking a shower. Hang your clothes on plastic hangers, get the bathroom steamy, and then gently stretch each item after it has been hung.

• Remove wrinkles by sticking each article that’s been wrinkled in the dryer. Spray it lightly with water before you dry it, and make sure that it’s on the “Press” setting if you have it.

• Use a wrinkle-free spray. Spritz it on and then smooth wrinkles out with your hand.

• Dry clean your items to get rid of wrinkles with minimal effort. . . but you’ll have to wait for a day before you wear it.

Traveling Tips
• Look for items that are made from special travel fabric. Does it seem gimmicky? Try it before you decide. Consider fabric of 2-ply combed cotton and stretch microfiber of poly, viscose, and lycra all work. How do they work? Wrinkle-free clothing has been treated with a special treatment that coats all threads and lining to keep everything crisp.

• Don’t just shove your clothes in a suitcase! If you carefully roll your items, then even your “regular,” untreated items will resist wrinkling.

Hiding Your “Flaws” With Clothing

Do you have certain areas that you wish you could hide? Don’t we all! You’ll find that if you shop specifically for items that flatter or at least camouflage your difficult areas, you can feel way more relaxed about the rest of your wardrobe. Enter a world where the gym isn’t the only answer, and body camouflage means a lot.

Thin Arms

Got thin arms? Check these tips out:
• Draw eyes away from your arms with shaped necklines, like henley tees with a button placket or v-neck necklines. This may not be advisable when you’ve got less of a defined chest, but otherwise, bring the eyes towards your torso and away from your limbs.

• Aim for thicker fabrics when you’re wearing long-sleeved shirts.

Do you have a little extra weight in your chest? That can be annoying, especially when you like to exercise but you suffer from unmanly mob bounce. Minimize the look of a larger chest with some quick tricks.
• Layer t-shirts and tank tops, and stay away from lightweight and clinging fabrics. If fabrics sticks around your fattier spots, it will emphasize them.

• Always layer tank tops or t-shirts to reduce the jiggle factor.

Big Stomach
Lots of guys fight the tummy bulge at one time, so prepare yourself ahead of time just in case. . .
• Heavy fabrics can work as outer layers, but don’t forget that lightweight fabrics work well for layers closest to the body. All you need to do is try a comfortable tank top underneath and tuck it in to look put together.

• Keep your pants at your belly level. If you push them down over your stomach, your midsection will just look larger.

• Look for suits that are well tailored. Try on both single and double-breasted styles to see what fits your personal taste and build.

• Find shirts with extra shaping. Baggy t-shirts simply aren’t flattering, and the drape will merely emphasize your stomach.

Small Feet
Small feet are surprisingly difficult to deal with, especially if you wear really small size. Smaller sizes are hard to find and don’t look very flattering on an average sized man. Consider getting bespoke shoes made, which can be expensive but are perfect shoe choice. Cobbler can make longer shoes for you but still make them fit. Why spend money on shoes that don’t look half as good when you can invest in a pair that fits like a glove?

Butt Concerns
While men don’t have as many issues with their rear as women do (and you’re lucky, you know that?), a supremely large or small caboose can be problematic. If you have larger, heaver thighs and hips, hunt out flat-front dress trousers that won’t emphasize your excess weight.

Have a sagging rear? Get rid of the old boxer briefs and find something that hugs your behind a little more. Try tighter boxer briefs and jockeys for a little lift—trust me, you’ll feel the difference.

Long Torso, Short Legs

Are your legs short? Fight your natural stature and look taller the next time you get dressed.
• Tuck in shirts to emphasize your waist, and pair them with trousers that hit at your waist.

• Invite contrast by wearing shirts that aren’t similar in color. If you “cut yourself off” at the waist, you’ll add length to your legs.

• If you’re slimmer with shorter legs, you may want to try wearing a pullover shirt instead of button-down shirts.

Long Legs, Short Body
Do you have long legs and a shorter torso? While this may not be a problem, you probably find that some clothes don’t really flatter your body type. Try these ideas to make your body look more balanced.
• Don’t wear jeans at your waist. Try a pair of slacks that hit slightly lower, like near your hips. It will decrease the daddy-longlegs effect you can get going on, especially if you’re tall and thin.

• Wear t-shirts that are styled for men with long torsos.

• If your legs look disproportionately long, look for trousers with a cuff.

• Suits will be trickier, but there are some techniques you can try to add balance to your shape. Don’t invite too much contrast, like with a bright shirt and dark trousers, because it will emphasize how high up your legs really go, and your shortwaistedness.

• Look for jackets and shirts with a long, lean line that fall below the waist. You can tuck in shirts, but be sure that your outer layers falls below the waist to add length to your torso.