The Last Frontier: Norton & Sons. | A Continuous Lean.

The Last Frontier: Norton & Sons.

Oct 14th, 2009 | Categories: David Coggins, England, London, Savile Row | by Michael Williams

The case for the custom suit is well-known and irrefutable: It’s the last frontier of superior craftsmanship, entirely built by hand. The knowledge that goes into a Savile Row suit can rightly be deemed historic. Your cutter might have been taught by the man who cut suits for Winston Churchill. The sheer range of fabrics is just as astounding. You may think you know everything there is to know about tweed—think again. Some sheds in Scotland make only a handful of bolts of fabric a year. One of those bolts can be the yours.

That doesn’t make it any easier when the reckoning comes: it’s going to cost north of $4000, and you’re going to take it like a man. Once indoctrinated, however, there are few complaints. Rare is the man with only one handmade suit—he’ll do everything in his power to buy another.

That money does not go into an advertising campaign or a cologne destined for duty-free stores. Instead, it returns, as is right, to tailors who’ve apprenticed for years to become expert at what they do. In fact, the profit margins at Savile Row tailors are surprisingly small, and many have closed or left the Row. It takes clear thinking to run a traditional tailor in the modern age. Enter Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons. Grant purchased the venerable tailor (established 1821), in 2006, while still in his thirties. The Norton space at 16 Savile Row is a classic, but not everybody can be in London for the three requisite fittings. So Grant dispatches his head cutter, David Ward, to the US four times a year. ACL recently met with Mr. Ward in a midtown hotel, where he had taken a suite of rooms to conduct fittings.

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Norton & Sons shop at 16 Savile Row

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An Oryx head at Norton & Sons on Savile Row

Visiting a hotel room—especially in the town where you live—feels rather illicit. With large sums of money are involved, even more so. When the door opens you’re not sure if you should expect an upscale escort or Sigourney Weaver asking if you’re the Gatekeeper. On the contrary, it’s the engaging David Ward, who’s been expecting you. Entering the suite, you pass a rack of suits and sport coats and paper patterns, and sit near a table covered with swatches. It may be intimidating to be fitted at the house that made suits for Churchill, but David Ward is so disarming that you’re immediately at ease and can concentrate on the important things in life, like lightweight grey flannel.

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Norton & Sons head cutter Mr. David Ward

Ward makes about 20 measurements and then steps back to assess your posture, which, as expected, is not that good. ‘Downward left shoulder slope.’ He takes these eccentricities into account when he cuts the pattern. Ward’s counsel for first-time buyers? “Get your basics in.” When you have solid three-season suits, “Then you can start building with stripes and plaids.” Common requests? “People ask about James Bond.” That would be Sean Connery, naturally, From Russia With Love vintage.

Norton now offers custom shirts from Stephen Lachter, whose private customers have included Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. That’s exalted company. You will want to wear your new clothes far and wide. When somebody tells you you’re overdressed, remember, if done correctly, it merely means you’re the best-dressed man in the room. That’s a burden you deserve to bear. DAVID COGGINS

Measurements

Custom suit measurements

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Just a few fabric options

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Stephen Lachter custom shirts

Comments: 13

13 Comments to “The Last Frontier: Norton & Sons.”

  1. Lewis Harris Esq.
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 8:54 AM

    Patrick Grant at Norton is one of the key drivers in the resurgence of the appreciation, understanding and reboot of the Harris Tweed weaving industry — despite the efforts of Brian Haggas to do otherwise. For that effort alone it’s worth a trip to N&S and placing an order for a bespoke tweed jacket or two.

  2. L.A.S
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 9:13 AM

    Fantastic read…not to mention a Ghostbusters reference. Great way to start off my day. I guess it’s time to start saving for one of these…

  3. RJ
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 10:21 AM

    I’m hoping Mr.Coggins continues writing here, this was a really well written article with some sick imagery, though somehow I was surprised that it wasn’t MW getting the suit. Oh and does anyone else recognize this guy from the savile row documentary posted a few weeks back? he was the one that went to China and had a f-king horrible time, though was he still working for Norton and Sons then?

  4. kenyan
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 12:01 PM

    RJ…Looks like he jumped ship!

    I would’ve done the same…if they were trying to make me push bespoke suiting from China..

  5. JP
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 12:09 PM

    MW-

    That first shot is awesome. Nice eye.

    JP

  6. Michael Williams
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 12:11 PM

    JP — the top two images were provided by Norton & Sons. But I’ll take any compliment I can get!

  7. jeremy
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 12:17 PM

    great piece! I purchased a suit from norton and sons a year ago. i wanted a loud flashy pattern and ended up settling on solid navy. he’s right get the basics going. i always get compliments on it.

    its very surprising to wear a suit like that. makes my other rtw suits seem like crap!

  8. mfj20th
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 2:36 PM

    Great post….Didnt David Ward used to be at Henry Poole?
    Peace,
    MJ

  9. Exit Lines
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 7:03 PM

    Well spotted. David Ward was indeed at Henry Poole.
    -DC

  10. David Himel
    on Oct 14th, 2009
    @ 8:26 PM

    A dieing art form for sure…love the measurements 5/8ths etc…wow that makes for a nice fit and a great incentive to not gain weight at the holidays or face an ill fitting 4000 dollar suit, lol!

  11. E.A.P.
    on Oct 15th, 2009
    @ 8:28 AM

    Great story. Did Mr. Ward used to work at Henry Poole?

  12. Paisley
    on Oct 16th, 2009
    @ 1:44 AM

    Ward worked at Poole until Patrick Grant revamped N&S and hired him as his head cutter.

  13. DeLorean
    on Oct 16th, 2009
    @ 6:21 PM

    Monocle has put out a video on small businesses. Norton & Sons is the first business they speak of. http://www.monocle.com

    But what Mr. Grant has done with this brand (and Savile Row) has really introduced it to the 21st century to hopefully prolong this fine historic street. Hopefully some day I will be fortunate to have something in my closet that has my name in the inside of my sports coat.

    Cheers to all
    DeLorean