He spent much of the March 2020 lockdown working in his office in the Covent Garden neighborhood of London. Paul Smith (Piston, UK, 1946) never thought he would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his fashion and tailoring company alone and secluded in a setting surrounded by more than 200 employees. The British designer told The Guardian at the end of 2020: “You might be running out of cash, who knows? Fortunately, so far, we’re very strong.”
The iconic London home is celebrating half a century in the midst of a global crisis in which the posture and good work of its builder can be like a vaccine. Paul Smith did not tremble much from other historical moments that tightened his tether, nor the miners’ strike of 1980 that so many of his stores on the frontline suffered, nor the current Brexit. He said, “I stick to what I know and what I’m good at.”
Smith’s association with fashion and creativity began in his teens. At the age of fifteen, he began working at a textile warehouse in Nottingham, finishing two years later his sewing lessons and becoming assistant to one of Savile Row’s legendary tailors, Linkroft Kilgore, in London. His father knew how to see that he had talent and artistic desire, as Paul Smith himself admits in an eponymous book published by Phaedo Publishing to celebrate his birthday – to which the pictures showing these pages belong -: “My father bought me a Kodak Retinette on my eleventh birthday, in the year 1957 (…). For me, this was the birth of the possibility to be creative, without really realizing it. ” This passion for photography that his father instilled in him still carries over into his work, but not only in the creative part, but also in the directing method: “Taking pictures with Kodak and film, long before digital technology, the science of patience.”
Pictured is a work by artist John Tierney representing Paul Smith’s Los Angeles storefront and a red floral-embroidered jacket, from his 1998 and reissued collection in 2020, in which he breaks down strict British attire.
At the age of 21, troubled Paul Smith met Pauline Denier, a student at the Royal College of Art who was going to be his wife and the true driving force behind his work. “It was Pauline who convinced me 50 years ago that I could open a different store than any other around him. Through her I discovered a world I did not know existed: visual art, cinema, architecture and design. I really liked music and photography, but an introduction to the rest came from her.” And this was the first store the couple had opened in 1970, in Byard Lane in Nottingham, and in Paul himself, it wasn’t exactly a store. “I couldn’t buy a store, but I found a room and called it a store,” she says. There he began selling his own designs, as well as those of other creators, as well as magazines and records. On the first day he accumulated 35 pounds; Half a century later, his company has sales of nearly € 250 million (2019 figure) and has nearly 200 stores in more than 60 countries.
The Bauhaus Effect
In the political and economic nonsense of the United Kingdom, Paul Smith is not seen as one of the great fortunes to be relied upon to do business. His legacy goes beyond the business sphere; His name is the symbol of English creativity of the last half century. His shortcuts relate to design, but also to sewing; Both paths are the paths that lead this company to dress up Hollywood stars, politicians, or members of royal families, but also ordinary Britons with their collections of flower shirts or accessories draped in their mythical print of a thousand colored stripes. His goal was always to reach out to all social classes, to make sure the suit wasn’t a dress for just going to work: “When people buy things, it’s like they’re looking at a shot. They don’t care that your effect was a trip to Chile or the colors of the sunset. They just think, “I love this shirt.”
Pictured is the Bauhaus book, the art movement that continues to inspire him and his collection of vintage matchboxes.
A personal friend of actors like Gary Oldman, Smith’s work and private life have always switched between welds and art. At times, he organized exhibitions by artists such as David Hockney, David Bailey or Andy Warhol, although he realized that the Bauhaus movement had the most influence in his work, since he visited an exhibition in 1968 at the Royal Academy in London. “It had a huge impact. I opened my eyes to this world, the chrome furniture by Marcel Breuer, the furnishings designed by Annie Albers … I’m not at all simple, but I love simplicity, although always humorous or resourceful.” Says. In fact, those typical games of color, geometry, and line intersections so distinct to their ensembles have much of this art school of the 1920s and 1930s.
They are the creator
Paul Smith is an inquisitive innovator, who continues to understand what he observes and asserts that he is passionate about other people’s creativity. It is generosity of a genius. Collects old matchboxes, copies of the legendary Domus Magazine, and is a fan of red tulips and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni lamps.
His joy and enthusiasm in the use of color, as well as his discipline, expertise, and vitality is evidenced by his former Apple designer Jony Ive, in the foreword to the book Paul Smith, which combines 50 elements chosen by the designer himself, and which have been his inspiration throughout these elements, Paul celebrates the color As if it was an illegal act 50 years old.
His fashion collections have always revolved around his own trends, he created them, because his imagination was and remains immense. Like the prints he released were inspired by the work of artist Patrick Proctor or the handwritten notes he left on his desk. Whatever surrounded him pressed him, turning him into an almost compulsive obsession: he wore the walls of his stores with mobile phone cases, with postage stamps, with domino … Some might say that he might be cranky, but others prefer to say that they are mythic customs that are perfumed daily with the scent of Vetiver.
“Thinker. Professional twitter fanatic. Certified introvert. Troublemaker. Unapologetic zombie maven.”