Fashion Focus: Paul Smith

Paul Smith Photo: Sandro Sodano

In homage to one of Britain’s leading designers, and ahead of a dedicated exhibition at The Design Museum next year, I turn my attention to the sartorial legacy of Sir Paul Smith. Celebrating a career that has endured for 40 years, the exhibition will take us through a year in the fashion designer’s life, revealing his unique and intuitive approach to his craft, his experience in the retail sphere and offering an insight into his personal passions.


From humble beginnings in a Nottinghamshire clothing warehouse, a reluctant 14 year old Smith never imagined that his schoolboy ambitions of cycling would two years later be forgotten for a life of art, fashion and culture. Learning the art of tailoring with Gordon Valentine Tipton, the aspiring designer was later spotted by retail entrepreneur, Harold Tillman who recruited Smith to work for Lincroft Kilgour on Savile Row.


In 1970, Smith opened his first shop at 10 Byard Lane in Nottingham and a mere six years later he presented his debut menswear collection in Paris under the Paul Smith label. Expanding his business in 1979, he became the first fashion brand to open on Floral Street in London’s Covent Garden offering fellow style-savvy men his blend of eclectic apparel. Taking his brand global, the Paul Smith line found particular popularity in Japan (where he now has 200 stores), and from there he saw his label grow with stores in 66 countries across the world, including Dubai, India, Belgium, Hong Kong, Europe and the US and showrooms in London, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo.


In 1998, Smith showed his first womenswear collection at London Fashion Week and in 2000, following almost three decades of producing some of the world’s most iconic clothing, identifiable by Smith’s signature multistripe detailing on each item, the designer was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Adept at both the retail side of the business as well as the design element, Smith has seen his business flourish with his classic yet quirky style defining the wardrobes of men the world over. The womenswear line has proven equally successful and in September 2010, Smith opened his first standalone womenswear store in the heart of London’ designer shopping district, Mayfair.


The Paul Smith brand is renowned for its inherent and quintessentially English appeal with a colourful ‘twist’, which has to this date culminated in 14 different collections for men and women. The Design Museum exhibition, which will run from 20 November 2013 to 2 March 2014, is set to explore not only Smith’s evident fashion prowess but truly bury deep into the mechanics behind his success. Demystifying the various stages of design, production and marketing behind one of the designer’s catwalk collections, the exhibit will also take a look at the other style beholden to Smith, namely the kooky facades which front his shops, from shocking pink movie set on Melrose Avenue, LA to elaborate Japanese garden in the heart of Tokyo’s Jingumae store.


Noting the people and places which have inspired Smith, as well as the fabrics with which he creates his garments and the history that has led him down the creative path; this exhibition is one to mark in your calendars now as we marvel at how one man turned a 3m x 3m Nottingham shop into a global brand and franchise.


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