Patrick Grant on the Revival of the Sunday Drive & Changing the Fashion Landscape
If there’s one person to advocate for a resurgence of the leisurely and time-forgotten ‘Sunday drive’, it’s Patrick Grant. The award-winning fashion designer and The Great British Sewing Bee judge – whose engineering background has no doubt inspired a love of cars – has launched a brand-new campaign with BMW to encourage people to make the most of the great British countryside post-lockdown.
Getting back to nature is something that a lot of us have cherished over lockdown – and this is the perfect way to do it, explains Grant. “It’s about planning a route that takes you somewhere special. The UK is full of beautiful countryside and I don’t think there will be many of us who don’t live within a short drive of somewhere spectacular.”
Lockdown has also led Grant to continue his work within the community. His The Big Community Sew project, launched last year, has created thousands of life-saving reusable face masks, whilst the pandemic, he explains, has given us all an opportunity to think differently about the clothes we buy and wear. We spoke to the designer about his plans for the perfect Sunday drive, what’s next for The Big Community Sew, and how the fashion industry requires change now more than ever.
Interview with Patrick Grant
Tell us about your new campaign with BMW, which is all about the revival of the Sunday drive.
The reason for starting this whole idea was that obviously right now, there are limited things that we are allowed to do. I am very fortunate to have recently moved up to a very beautiful part of the country – the north of England is full of incredible places, and Lancashire is no exception. When I arrived here, I spent a lot of time outdoors cycling and walking, but there were times when I wanted to just go a little further afield. So, the idea of taking a drive simply for the absolute pleasure of just going for a drive and passing through this incredible landscape was something that I felt was quite interesting, and was something that we could do right now while all the other things that we would normally do have been taken away.
What’s your ideal Sunday drive?
I’m very lucky to have a BMW 4 Series to drive which makes the whole thing a pleasure, but it’s not just about the car. It’s about planning a route that takes you somewhere special. The UK is full of beautiful countryside and I don’t think there will be many of us who don’t live within a short drive of somewhere spectacular. I like to see a bit of variation – some beautiful villages, some great countryside, and I like to get up into the mountainous bits as well. I like to plan a picnic, because who knows what’s going to be open. I’m trying to be as safe as possible, so I don’t want to be going to shops and cafes. So, take a flask of coffee and some sandwiches. Make yourself self-sufficient so that you can enjoy the whole thing without having to worry about anything.
What should we be wearing for our Sunday drive?
There are so few things that we get to dress up for these days. It seems a little mad to be dressing up to sit in a car by yourself and drive around – but why not? Enjoy the opportunity to create yourself a driving outfit or match yourself to the interior of the car. In the film I made, I ridiculously get changed three times in the one drive because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to wear. Take inspiration from the landscape and scenery around you. It’s just about finding a nice excuse to think about the clothes you’re going to wear and take a bit of care. And the great thing about this is that you’re doing it just for yourself, you’re not dressing for anybody else.
Who is your biggest style inspiration?
I spend my life looking at pictures of people and clothes and I have a few style heroes that I always like to think about. With Norton & Sons and E. Tautz, over the years we’ve just dressed some incredible people from Winston Churchill to Cary Grant to David Niven. Today, I really admire Jarvis Cocker. He dresses for himself and his clothes tell the story of who he is. They’re kind of idiosyncratic, but incredibly stylish. He wears a lot of secondhand clothes, and has done for a really long time.
Another person who does that is Prince Charles, who I’m very fortunate to work with on Future Textiles London. Again, he has a very singular style: it’s very particular to him, from the way he ties his tie to the cut of his suit and how he always wears a little lapel pin. But he is also somebody who cares for his clothes – he even wears pieces of clothing that were his grandfather’s. It’s our philosophy in all of the brands that I run; it’s about buying something that’s good and keeping it for a long time, and so the people I like are those people, that clearly care about their clothing.
How do you and your companies cope with the pressure to be environmentally responsible, as well as maintain high ethical standards?
A lot of businesses talk about it, but very few businesses actually do anything about it. There’s an incredible amount of greenwashing going on right now. For us, it’s quite simple. I think Norton & Sons is probably the most sustainable clothing producer in the entire world. We only make what is asked for, we make it to an exceptional standard out of the most sustainable natural materials on the planet, and we help our customers to keep their clothes for an incredibly long time. We also make clothes mostly by hand so the company has an incredibly tiny energy footprint. You could turn the power out at Norton & Sons and we could still make your clothes. I think for that reason, it has a sustainable future.
Savile Row is steeped with tradition. How do you look to get an edge on the competition?
Every house on Savile Row has a unique identity. There are a dozen fantastic tailors on Savile Row and any one of those – all members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association – will make you a fantastic suit. But the process that you will go through and the suit that you will get (how it looks, how it feels, and how that process comes about) will be very different at every one. We are an unapologetically small firm; we make only a few 100 bespoke suits every year, we have one address, and you won’t find us in airport lounges, in high streets or in foreign cities. There is one Norton & Sons and it’s on Savile Row and everybody that works there knows about tailoring inside out – and it’s personal. So I think it’s about offering incredible service as well as incredible product.
Can you tell us about the Big Community Sew and the impact this has had during lockdown?
We launched the Big Community Sew in response to the need for people all across the country to wear masks. We worked with the Cabinet Office and with Public Health England to launch a campaign that provided great information so that people knew how to make masks that would be safe, and that would be washable and reusable, so therefore sustainable. We very quickly got lots of fantastic people from the sewing world (including lots of The Great British Sewing Bee former contestants), to make really simple how-to videos with simple instructions, and then we encouraged everybody that had a sewing machine or that knew how to sew, to make masks for friends, neighbours and their community. Very quickly, thousands of people got involved and millions of masks have been made by volunteers – and undoubtedly, many people’s lives have been saved as a result.
It also gave all of those volunteers something positive to focus on during lockdown. They were part of a network which gave a lot of people – many who were struggling with mental or physical health issues – something to take their mind off what was going on around them. We had so many fabulous heartwarming stories of people who were sewing together – multi generations came together to do it. It’s been a great thing to be part of and we are extending it now, because so many people have enjoyed volunteering their time.
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There’s undoubtedly going to be a lot of people that have lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of switching fields or pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
One of the things that I had hoped Brexit might achieve was that we would see a revival in manufacturing here. I hope there will be opportunities to do that, because we’ve seen the benefits of it: stability, purpose, a network of friends and it’s incredibly rewarding. The world is undoubtedly going through a very dramatic shift and we have opportunities in the clothing world to think differently. Let’s start repair cafés. Let’s start thinking about circularity. Let’s start thinking about how we make new clothes out of old clothes. The opportunities in textile recycling and in clothing repair could see a huge resurgence of local, small manufacturing. There is an opportunity to completely change the landscape. The system that we have right now is bad; we have exploited workers and a planet that’s being systematically stripped of its resources. And we have to change it. This might be an opportunity for people to start thinking differently.
Patrick Grant has partnered with BMW to launch the stylish new 4 Series Coupé, delivering distinctive design from every angle and innovative technology. For more information, join Patrick on his journey to rediscover the joy of the Sunday Drive at discover.bmw.co.uk/sunday-drive.
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