"Creativity is never forced for me" – Paul Smith
In conversation with the designer
He dreamed of being a professional cyclist but when an accident left him hospitalised, Paul Smith discovered the finite art of fashion. Fast forward forty years and the designer is at the helm of his eponymous empire, which he continues to steer with effort, endoctrine and an energetic colour palette. This is Paul Smith's story...
What's your first memory from the fashion industry?
I think it was when I was about 16. I was working at my first job and my boss asked me to put together some displays. I did them and he was quite pleased with them. It was then that I realised that I could do creative things, which "enhanced". I never set out to be a fashion designer but after a bicycle accident left me in hospital for three months, I discovered my local art college and fell in love with creativity.
You've now been in business for over 40 years Sir Paul Smith. Tell us about your evolution in fashion?
The market is more competitive than ever before. Whilst you have to standout and design pieces that get attention it's also vital to get the basics right. You might show a bright red suit on the runway but it's the same suit in navy blue that you'll sell in large quantities. It's all about striking the right balance. The consistency of getting that right is what I'm most proud of with Paul Smith — we combine the classic heritage pieces with the more attention-grabbing pieces.
There has never been more people fishing from the same pond.
Why do you like colour so much?
Black and navy will always be very popular in terms of sales and commerciality but fortunately, we're very famous for our colour and people come to Paul Smith to buy something exceptional (and often colourful). I think it would be quite a shock to everyone if one day we showed nothing but black on the runway! We're an optimistic company and colour cheers people up.
Can you describe your design studio and the creative team working with you?
Anyone that's seen photos of my office will know that it's a pretty mad place. I suppose what influences me the most is the fact that things constantly move around. Somebody once described the office like a beach, where the tide comes in and goes out, which I think is a very true observation. It's that juxtaposition of one thing with another and the way that constantly changes, that I find very inspiring.
What's your opinion on social media?
I'd be lying if I said it wasn't difficult communicating our personality online through social media. What makes Paul Smith different is the individuality and the eclectic mix of high culture and low culture, rough and smooth — communicating that on a computer screen is not easy!
Are stores still essential to the luxury experience?
I'm fortunate enough that Paul Smith is still an independent company and so I have the freedom to do things differently. My shops are all designed in house by my very talented shop design team. As a result of this my shops really standout in this very homogenised world and hopefully people enjoy spending time in them! For me, effort is one of the most important ingredients in making something feel luxurious. I always like to have something in the shops that demonstrates effort. In my shop in Mayfair at No. 9 Albemarle for example, it's the room covered entirely with individual dominoes.
We adored the Spring/Summer 17 collection. How would you describe the inspiration?
As you might expect from Paul Smith it was very colourful — an optimistic collection. The colours and prints were inspired by a visit I made to the Hilma Af Klint exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Hilma Af Klint has a wonderful way of mixing colours and incorporating hand-drawn elements, which I tried to explore in the collection. At the show we had the most beautiful meadow flowers as part of the set, they contrasted with the very industrial and raw venue we had — which was an old train storage space.
How do you keep your ideas and the creative dialogue fresh?
I'm blessed with getting up every morning and enjoying life from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep. Creativity is never forced for me. I find inspiration in everything that surrounds me, whether it's the colour of a book-spine inspiring the colour of a little leather wallet or a garden in the Chelsea Flower Show inspiring the print on a dress in my women's catwalk collection...
Who is your muse today?
My wife Pauline, who I've been with since I was 21 years of age. She dresses in a very simple way but has an ability to combine textures and colours in a way, which is very creative.