The Career of Sir Paul Smith

British Fashion Council

Classics with a Twist.

SIR PAUL SMITH
Paul Smith isn’t a corporate creation or a character dreamt up by a focus group. He’s the living, breathing designer and master shopkeeper who has been making and selling clothes since the 1970's. Paul is the creative drive behind everything that happens at Paul Smith and he retains a controlling share in the company he founded in 1970. Individuality is very important to Paul. It’s a common quality shared by his favourite artists, musicians and other independent minds that have inspired him over the years. Maintaining the independence of Paul Smith means that Paul has the freedom to do the things that bigger companies cannot.
THE EARLY YEARS: AN ACCIDENTAL CAREER
Until the age of 17 Paul’s life revolved around cycling. Sadly, a nasty accident put an end to Paul’s professional cycling ambitions, landing him in hospital for six months. During his recovery he met new friends who opened his eyes to a colourful world of ideas and excitement. They talked of Mondrian, Warhol and Kokoshka while listening to the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis and many others. The accident changed Paul’s life but his love of cycling continued. References to the sport are scattered throughout his design work.

PAUL SMITH 'Vêtement Pour Homme'

Paul’s first shop in Nottingham measured just 3 x 3 metres. It was called ‘Paul Smith Vetements Pour l’Homme’ and it opened in 1970 on 6 Byard Lane, Nottingham.

It was one small room without any windows but Paul called it a shop. His Afghan hound Homer was the first shop manager.

THE CHARM SHIRT

The charm shirt became an early signature for Paul Smith. The origin of the charm shirt occurred when Paul was waiting for Pauline, his wife, on Via Montenapoleone, Milan. He bought some charms from a stall that were meant for charm bracelets but he had the idea to stitch them onto the shirt placket.

The charm shirt was reintroduced into the Paul Smith collection for Autumn / Winter 2016. The charms – including peace symbols and rainbows – tie into Paul’s overall message of peace and positivity

A rainbow button detail taken from a Paul Smith charm shirt for the Autumn / Winter 2016 menswear collection.

EVERY PAUL SMITH SHOP IS DIFFERENT

Yes, there are recurring themes, like the ever-present art wall that mirrors the picture-covered walls in Paul’s office, but Paul has always believed that each shop should reflect the character of its area.

Paul’s idea filters down through the shop design, stock and the merchandising. Walking into each Paul Smith shop is a unique experience.

As a result, the London flagship shop No. 9 Albemarle Street is very different to the modernist pink box of Paul Smith LA, or the newly refurbished Paris shop on Rue Saint-Honoré.

TAKING OFF: PARIS & LONDON
In 1976 Paul traveled to Paris to show his first men’s collection. He borrowed a friend’s flat on Boulevard de Vaugirard to stage the show. The models and helpers were all friends too. It was very crowded, very successful and very exciting. Paul has made that same trip twice a year ever since. Then, in 1979 he opened his second shop in Covent Garden, London. From, these early beginnings a truly global company has grown, selling to over 70 countries and more than 17,000 stockists across the globe.

Paul Smith's first fashion show in 1976. Even though the show was put on in a friend's borrowed apartment it was a huge success and Paul has continued to show in Paris ever since.

The famous modernist pink box of Paul Smith LA on 8221 Melrose Avenue which is the most Instagramed building in LA

THE SPAGHETTI SHIRT

Paul was one of the first designers to use the photographic print on fabric in the 1980s. The technique reflected Paul’s keen interest in photography. Early prints from the 1980s used Paul’s own photographs.

This has continued to this day, drawing from Paul’s personal Instagram account @paul_smith. Early photo prints included apples, acorns, flowers, piles of wood, an ivy covered wall and clouds.

The plate of spaghetti came from Japan where, on one of his many trips, Paul discovered a shop that sold wax food designed for restaurant window displays.

NEW FOUND FAME: CLASSIC WITH A TWIST
In the 1980’s Paul continued to steadily grow his business. Along with Giorgio Armani, Paul pioneered a more relaxed cut and silhouette for the formal men's suit. Although, Paul's delight in quirky detailing and contrasting linings is all his own. This more playful, less formal approach to classic tailoring captured the new found confidence of the decade and won Paul loyal customers all over the world. 

Paul Smith is greeted by Japanese fans asking for his autograph.

THE ARTIST STRIPE

Stripes have been central to Paul Smith’s design work since the early days of the company. The new Artist Stripe, introduced in Autumn / Winter 2016, is the latest incarnation of the Paul Smith stripe.

The Artist Stripe was inspired by the colour combinations of expressionist art. The Artist Stripe is available as a bold print or as a subtle detail found on shirt cuffs, bag linings or the internal trim of jackets.

WHAT WOMEN WANT

After discovering that 15% of all his clothes were bought by women who appreciated their cut and quality, Paul decided he should expand his range.

However, Paul insistence that 'things be done right' combined with a natural caution meant that the brand would not rush into this new opportunity.

It wouldn't be until 1993, when Paul took over the traditional, but bankrupt company R. Newbold (established in 1885) and incorporated many of their famous cuts into his new collection that women's wear would be launched.

COLLABORATIONS: LEICA CAMERA

Collaboration has always been part of the Paul Smith business, allowing Paul to demonstrate the broad range of his interests and apply his creativity to other areas.

Other collaborations have included projects with Land Rover, John Lobb, Maharam, Anglepoise, Caran d’Ache, Mercian cycles, the Giro d’Italia and Penguin Classics.

Photography has always been central to Paul’s work, so this collaboration tapped into a deep personal interest. A combination of playful British design and precision German engineering.

The design featured a dark green body with bold lime and orange accents, plus Paul’s hand-drawn doodle on the flash capModel was the Leica X2 digital camera, which retailed at £1,750 Launched in September, 2012.

PAUL SMITH TODAY: STILL A BRITISH BRAND
Everything made by Paul Smith continues to be designed in the UK. A stone’s throw from Paul’s first London shop in Covent Garden, which opened in 1979, Paul Smith HQ is home to the design team with Paul’s office on the top floor. Every Paul Smith product starts life in this London office, with Paul involved in every decision. Meanwhile, in Nottingham Paul Smith has grown to include two shops and two huge warehouses that are home to production, distribution and other important things that keep the company running smoothly. 

A SUIT TO TRAVEL IN

A Suit To Travel in embodies Paul’s ideas about tailoring, namely that it should look smart while feeling effortless to wear. As a result, A Suit To Travel in was create with movement and comfort in mind.

A Suit To Travel In was launched by British Olympic gymnast Max Whitlock in August 2015, who demonstrated the flexibility and crease resistance of the suit by performing a series of impressive gymnastic moves while wearing A Suit To Travel In.

The suit is created from high-twist, 100% wool yarn with natural stretch and crease recovery. It’s the fantastic life and vitality of this fabric that gives the suit its unique qualities. The wool fabric of the suit is naturally breathable and wicking, helping the wearer stay cool and comfortable while also looking effortlessly sharp

INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE

Paul attributes a large part of his success to his magpie mind; he’s fascinated by design, he's a scholar of fashion and is a compulsive collector of ‘stuff’.

Paul is an avid user of Instagram. Paul has always been a visual thinker. He quickly took to Instagram and posted his first image in 2012. Since then Paul’s personal account has gathered nearly 300,000 followers.

Paul's office contains a vast collection of curiosities and mementoes. Paul is constantly being sent interesting things from his friends and fans. And, Paul is always adding to his collection as he travels around the world.

The Paul Smith flagship store on Floral Street in Covent Garden, London.

My top tip is to take it slow. Life is a joy. You don't have to be rich and famous straight away. Take it easy, grow gently and you'll have a lovely life
Sir Paul Smith

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Paul Smith. All rights belong to Paul Smith unless otherwise specifically stated. All models and photographers have been credited where known.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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