Running five businesses and adding a judging role on BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee into the mix and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a case of all work and no play. But although he admits to working incredibly long hours, fashion designer and businessman Patrick Grant proves to be cheerful and charismatic company and clearly relishes this portmanteau of professional roles.
Illustrated with images from a ride with friends, Patrick took time out from his busy schedule to discuss a relationship with cycling that proves vitally important in balancing a stellar career with the need to relax and reflect.
You rescued Savile Row bespoke tailors Norton & Sons from near insolvency in 2005 and then went on to relaunch E. Tautz as a ready to wear label in 2009. A year later you were awarded the Menswear Designer award by the British Fashion Council and you also have other business interests in Hammond & Co, Community Clothing and Cookson & Clegg. So I really can’t fathom how you get any time to ride?
I was living in Rossendale for a couple of months at the start of lockdown. We kept working all the way through so I was running the factory and living in borrowed accommodation on a farm at the top of a hill. But the weather in April and May was so fantastic that I took every opportunity to jump on my bike. So even when I’m really, really busy with work I can usually find the time to spend at least a couple of hours on the bike.
How do you view your rides? Exercise, escape. Time to think or to switch off?
I suppose in many ways it’s all those things. I enjoy the physical exercise and occasionally I post pictures on Instagram of bits of countryside that I’ve cycled around. People comment that I’d enjoy it more if I got an electric bike. But it’s completely the opposite. I wouldn’t enjoy it at all [laughs].
Does cycling offer more than purely the physicality of riding?
There’s definitely the mental aspect. The clearing of the head and having time to reconnect. I really enjoy just being in those places and the speed that you pass through the scenery on a bicycle seems to be optimal. I love hill walking as well but in five hours on the bike you can move across so many different landscapes whereas, on foot, this sense of journeying is a little more limited.
So the bike is a tool for exploration?
I’m about to move again on Sunday down to London to film Sewing Bee for six weeks. So I’ll have lived in [counting on fingers] one, two, three, four, five different places in four and a half months. And I find cycling a great way to get to know where I am. I’ve always loved maps and feel rather transported by them. I like to visualise the terrain and picture how nice it will be.
Do you like to plan a route or follow your nose?
I’m working from home this week as I’m in isolation ahead of going into a full bubble to start filming. And I was looking out of the window last night and it was so lovely that I just threw some kit on and set off towards the Forest of Bowland. I wanted to try this road I’d noticed but it was very, very narrow and quite apparent that the line of grass in the middle indicated there wasn’t much traffic using it. I got to the bottom where I knew the river cut across only to discover the road was closed. But like most cyclists you ask yourself how closed is it [smiles]? And I quite like that aspect of riding.
Welcoming the unexpected?
On one particular ride with some friends we ended up on a trail with our road bikes. I’m not precious in the slightest about my bike but one of my friends is the exact opposite and he was horrified that we were cycling through gravel and grass. And that was the best bit of the whole day [laughs].
You’re hinting at a slightly rebellious side to your nature. Are you a well behaved cyclist?
Well, I think so. No, I am. But I suppose it depends what you mean. I’m quite happy to climb over a fence next to a road-closed sign to see what’s happening. But when I cycle in London I stop at red lights and I’m a courteous cyclist. But that’s just the way I am in life. And as I’m nearly 50, it’s just not dignified to be behaving badly at my age [smiles].
And when you were younger?
When I was a boy I had a racing bike and I rode it everywhere. Up and down hills. Through rivers. And maybe that’s why I’m such a big fan of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship. I found it all so inspirational that I was a Kickstarter backer of the book. And it’s funny because a friend and I did a coast to coast ride across Scotland with a middle section that included long sections on forest trails. And before we set off he was asking whether I had a cross bike but, as I haven’t, I explained that I’d be OK on my tourer. So I just did it on my Dawes Galaxy and was absolutely fine because the bike is built to withstand anything. There were a couple of tricky downhill sections but you get on with it. And when we were kids you’d ride those sorts of bikes everywhere and you didn’t think anything of it.
Speaking of the bikes that you ride, I was mulling this over and for city riding I initially pictured you on a Brompton but then – considering your engineering background – whether it would be a Moulton?
You credit me with having a) too much money and b) too much time on my hands [laughs]. But no, I ride a big, old Pashley. The classic frame with the double top tube. It’s got big wheels and big tyres and a sprung Brooks saddle. The roads in London are atrocious with potholes the size of your head so I want to be safe and comfortable. And I don’t ride in Lycra in London. I cycle at a pace which means I don’t need to shower when I get to work. The bike is used to dot about all over the place and you can stick two massive panniers on it for all your clutter. And you’re also very tall on it – above the height of most cars – so people can see you.
And what bike for the open road? I was going down the custom steel direction.
I have a couple of things other than the Dawes. My best bike is a 20-year-old Trek. The US Postal, Lance Armstrong era carbon frame. I bought it second hand from a guy in my triathlon club and it’s really lovely. He was the kind of person that when a new bike came out he’d have to get it.
And it’s still going strong?
At the time, it was the best bike you could buy. But it’s got to the point now that when I take it in, the guys in the bike shop are saying, ‘Look at this, it’s a classic.’ But it’s still a beautiful bike and it handles incredibly well. I’ve ridden modern bikes with electronic shifters and, for me, that 9-speed Dura Ace still takes some beating.
You mentioned a couple of bikes?
I’ve also got an early 70s Raleigh Team Ti with Campag Record that’s also rather lovely. But the gearing is terrible if you’re going up a hill and you haven’t got the super slight build of a climber [smiles].
Thinking along the lines of aesthetics, as a fashion designer is there an expectation that you should look super stylish at all times?
I think people are often surprised when they see me not wearing the same clothes that I wear on Sewing Bee. Because that’s where most people know me from and, on the telly, I’ve pretty much always dressed the same way. A shirt, a tie, a jacket and a pair of trousers and I look reasonably smart. But funnily enough, people don’t really recognise me when I’m not in that gear [laughs]. Most of the time I wear a t-shirt or sweatshirt with a pair of jeans. And my facial hair changes every six months so I manage to live almost entirely incognito.
And on the bike?
Again, it’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I haven’t got time to be worrying about cycling clothes. I’m very fortunate that I know David Millar and I’ve a few nice pieces of Chpt3 kit. Lovely bibs and jerseys and they make great socks [smiles]. But I’ve also got a bunch of dodgy old team jerseys that I bought on Wiggle. So I suppose a little surprisingly – considering my business interests – it’s not a fashion parade at all.
A time when you’re not thinking about that aspect of your life?
I like wearing functionally great gear but I’m not standing in front of the mirror making sure I’m fully coordinated. It’s funny because I get asked what I see people wearing that makes me cringe and I always answer, ‘Nothing!’ If you look forward to putting on your box-fresh socks and matching your outfit to your bike, then absolutely go for it. More power to you. And I do have an old woollen Raleigh Ti team jersey which I wear for Eroica where it’s about the look as much as the ride.
I was speaking to your friend Stuart Clapp and he has some very opinionated – and very funny – views on the do’s and don’ts of cycling attire.
Stuart’s very funny about everything [laughs].
He also has access to a lot of gear as Desire editor for Rouleur. And you mentioned another friend of yours, David Millar, who was speaking on his podcast about wearing a pair of socks with a pattern on them and how they should line up correctly. But I’m guessing you don’t prescribe to on-the-bike etiquette and rules?
If I’m wearing something, I’ll wear it properly. And I say that I’m casual about it but it’s probably not true [laughs]. Even to the extent that if I throw something on and I’m wearing a black jersey and black bib shorts, then if they’re not the right shade of black I might just reach for another one out of the cupboard. So I’m probably more fastidious about it than I’m admitting to. And Stuart is always very well turned out but he must have 75 pairs of cycling shoes. He’s wearing a different pair every time I see him. I’ve got a road pair that I’ve had for years and a crappy old pair with SPD cleats that I use for the tourer. But it’s like all my kit, I’m not going to buy more until something wears out. I like to use things until they stop being useful. And if I can, I’ll fix something. I’ll patch and repair so I’ll still be wearing the same kit when it comes back into fashion. If shit 90s graphics are ever in again, I’ll be right there in the sweet spot [laughs].
In a sense, cycling can seem rather tribal. Serious roadies, mountain bikers, the fixie scene, retro. Do you feel defined by a label?
No, not really. I cycle with a few friends and other than that, I’m out by myself. At the moment I don’t have a lifestyle that allows me to be a regular club rider. When I was living in London I was a member of Dulwich Paragon and I’d go out on Saturday rides with them and some track at Herne Hill. I’ve got a really nice steel Pete Matthew’s track bike which looks very odd leaning up trackside amongst all the whizzy carbon frames.
So maybe a foot in different camps?
I do a bit of whatever comes along. The Dirty Reiver a couple of years back and the London to Newcastle 24. But I also like to get out into the mountains and l find the idea of carrying all my gear with me very appealing. I’ve got a lovely little Terra Nova tent that packs down really well.
Your brand E. Tautz originally made a name for itself manufacturing sporting goods. I believe Winston Churchill was a customer but had a problem paying his bill?
He did pay it eventually [smiles].
Any plans for a line of cycling apparel to continue that sporting heritage?
E. Tautz & Sons – as it was known then – did actually make bicycling clothing. They designed specific breeches for all sorts of sports and cycling was one of their lines. But the truth is, we wouldn’t want to do this on that brand just because there’s lots and lots of people doing really good cycle wear and I think you’ve got to be fully committed to that. But there is a chance we’d do something cycle related through Community Clothing which is the other ready-to-wear business that I do myself.
I believe it’s got a very innovative business model?
The brand supports British manufacturing through the work that we give them. We use UK factories and we sell our products at a very affordable price. It’s all about creating really simple, high quality everyday bits of kit. Until now we’ve done this with clothing but there’s no reason why collaborating in producing a bike wouldn’t be quite Community Clothing. Because what we do have is a growing audience of people who like supporting homegrown companies and we’re a go-to place for nice simple, well made stuff.
Thinking once again about the time you spend on the bike – everything simplified down to the turn of a pedal – I was wondering whether this allows you to balance the demands of all these different business interests?
It is great thinking time. And I don’t use Strava. I choose to disconnect myself from all that sort of stuff as well. I carry my phone because I like to take photographs and it’s a more convenient size than my camera. And in my job, I’m on the phone for sometimes six or seven hours a day and receive constant emails. A steady stream of interruptions to any train of thought so it’s difficult to think about one given thing at a time. And because we have five different businesses, I’m constantly juggling between one and another. So the only time I get to really step away from all of that is when I’m cycling. I find I have a very busy mind but that all dampens down a bit when I’m riding and allows me time to reflect. And of course, once you disconnect, your mind takes a moment to suppress itself before it starts to wander. And from there, well…