The Career of Sir Paul Smith

Classics with a Twist.

Paul Smith Portrait 2014British Fashion Council


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.

A young Paul Smith with his bicyleBritish Fashion Council


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.

Mercian Cycles x Paul Smith (2014) by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

Paul Smith, First Shop (1970) by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

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.

Paul Smith, First Shop, Sir Paul Smith, 1970, Original Source: Paul Smith
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Paul Smith, First Shop, Sir Paul Smith, 1970, Original Source: Paul Smith
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Paul Smith Charm Shirt by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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

Paul Smith Charm Shirt by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

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

Paul Smith | No. 9 Albemarle Street (2016) by Paul SmithBritish Fashion Council


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.

Paul Smith's Floral Street Store in Covent GardenBritish Fashion Council


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, First Show (1976) by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

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.

Paul Smith Store, Los Angeles by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

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

Paul Smith Spaghetti Shirt Inspiration by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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.

Paul Smith Spaghetti Shirt by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

Paul Smith jacket detailBritish Fashion Council


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 being mobbed in JapanBritish Fashion Council

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

Paul Smith Artist Stripe by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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.

Paul Smith Artist Stripe Shirt by Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

Paul Smith Campaign, Autumn / Winter 2016 (2016) by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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.

Paul Smith Collaboration with Leica by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

Paul Smith Collaboration with Leica by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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 and Anglepoise, Edition Two, Sir Paul Smith, 2015, Original Source: Paul Smith
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Paul Smith, Caran D'Ache, Spring / Summer 2017, Sir Paul Smith, 2016, Original Source: Paul Smith
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Paul Smith x Land Rover Defender, Sir Paul Smith, 2015, Original Source: Paul Smith
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Paul Smith's FabricsBritish Fashion Council


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. 

Paul Smith's 'A Suit To Travel In' (2015) by Paul SmithBritish Fashion Council


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

Paul Smith's Work Today - A Suit To Travel In by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

Paul Smith's London Office by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith


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.

Paul Smith Record ShoppingBritish Fashion Council

Paul Smith Campaign, Autumn / Winter 2015 (2015) by Sir Paul SmithOriginal Source: Paul Smith

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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