Designer Patrick Grant recently visited Bengaluru, Jaipur, Patna and Kolkata to host a series of workshops for Indian tailors. A former winner of the Menswear Designer of the Year award bestowed by the British Fashion Council, Grant currently serves as the director of Savile Row tailoring house Norton & Sons, and the brand E. Tautz.
What did the workshops with Indian tailors entail?
On Savile Row, we manage to continue our tradition and preserve our skill because we train our own tailors. By coming here, we wanted to showcase the excellence of our skills and, at the same time, show Indian tailors that the art of bespoke tailoring can still be practiced here. Till today, India has a strong tradition of tailoring. I had some suits stitched here 15 years ago, and ever since, lots of local tailors have moved away from hand tailoring.
We can’t hope to train Indian tailors in bespoke suit-making in a day. Our apprentices train for several years before getting their certification. But we wanted to give them a snapshot of how we operate by offering an overview of the processes. Many of them are surprised that we still use old techniques, while they have moved on to machines and newer techniques. I’m interested to find out if there’s a way for us to revive the art of bespoke tailoring in India, because it obviously used to be done earlier.
You’re trying to tell them that they don’t need the best technology to match global standards.
Absolutely. We are zero-technology. We take our orders using pen and paper, we draft patterns with a pencil and cut them by hand. We sometimes joke that the power could fail and we could just carry on working, which actually happens sometimes.
What is the scope for bespoke tailoring in India?
Most people here want fast service. So if tailors in India want to sell a bespoke product, they have to educate their customers about why these things take time. We usually take about 3 months for a new customer to get their first suit made, and we’re proud of it. We start at over £4,500, so if we were to produce that suit so quickly, people would wonder why we were charging so much.
But of late, we find that the numbers are growing. More men want handmade, beautiful things and they appreciate good fabric. They ask more questions about what they’re buying — where the wool comes from, where it’s spun, the construction of the fabric etc.
Is the Savile Row client experimental these days, or is he still fixated on the classics?
On the whole, we tend to have more classic clients — men who tend to be discreet about their success. The houses on Savile Row are where people from even the fashion world — like Christopher Kane or Christian Louboutin — come to for their suits. They tend to want simple things with subtle differences in shape and shade. For instance, there is a fine line between gaudy and elegant checks, and a man with taste can differentiate. We’re also there to guide them if they need advice. So while our house feels modern, our techniques are incredibly traditional. We haven’t changed the techniques and cutting style at all, and I don’t think we ever will.
Tailoring in India is also a largely labour class profession, and not everyone can market a great suit and command a high price. Is that a big disadvantage?
You need to be able to relate to your customer to a certain extent. But ultimately, all they are looking for from us is expertise — in style, fabric, cut and styling. If you’re genuinely an expert — or you employ genuine experts who have a complete understanding of men’s tailoring — and establish that confidence, you’ll do well. In the UK, people with undergraduate degrees are also getting into bespoke tailoring. It’s seen as a very elevated art. Tailors are very valued; the senior tailors on Savile Row are paid very substantial salaries. After the BBC did a documentary on Savile Row, the numbers of people who wanted to be bespoke tailors shot up significantly. These men have to go through a lot of training and be examined by a board before they can work. So even in India, I think tailors would need to establish their credibility and show why they can command a higher price by having an all-round understanding of tailoring.
Patrick Grant was in India to host a series of workshops for Indian tailors. He was hosted by The Woolmark Company and Raymond.