Paul Smith surrounded by his creations, in the early days - archival image
From its origins in one small shop in Nottingham, England, quintessentially British fashion maison Paul Smith has grown into a global business, selling to five continents, over 70 countries and 3,000 stores. Paul Smith remains an independent company, with Sir Paul Smith himself holding the majority stake. “We’ve always worked very differently from other design companies,” says Sir Paul in a special video filmed for the occasion, and to launch his new collection. “We are not restricted by things such as brand image, market trends…we are looser and freeer, whether we are right or wrong, that’s how we are.”
Paul Smith, a portrait
And it is this freedom and individuality that has made Sir Paul who he is – a name synonymous with colourful, individualistic style. Sir Paul celebrates the 50th anniversary of Paul Smith, marked by the launch of an eponymous book published by Phaidon, which lauds Paul’s varied inspirations through portraits of 50 objects. This book is edited by Tony Chambers (with a foreword by Jonathan Ive), and weaves together the selected objects along with quotes and contributions from many of Paul’s friends and collaborators from across his 50 years in business.
The iconic designer has also launched a 50th anniversary capsule collection of casual menswear and womenswear looks into that hark back into vast back-catalogue of photo prints (such as the spaghetti image, the green apple, or his iconic stripes) that Paul Smith has created over the years. Archive graphics spanning from 1988 to 2002 offer a snapshot of Paul’s vivid approach to design.
Early portrait of Sir Paul Smith
Hailing from Beaston, Nottingham, Paul Smith was born on 5th July 1946. An avid cyclist until he was 17, when a road accident put paid to his competitive dreams, through a new friendship group Paul found himself amongst a new world of creatively minded young people and from there embarked on a life-long journey of discovery and exploration in design, music and fashion.
Paul and Pauline Smith
Paul met his now wife Pauline when he was 21. It was Pauline who introduced him to visual arts, cinema and much more and her influence and training at the Royal College of Art was instrumental in developing Paul’s understanding and skill of tailoring and garment design.
Paul Smith at his first shop - archival image
Paul opened his first shop called Paul Smith Vêtements Pour Homme in Nottingham on October 9th 1970. It sold established clothing labels alongside pieces that Paul had designed himself. The store was just three square metres and was located at 6 Byard Lane in Nottingham. He even hired his dog Homer – an Afghan hound – as his shop manager! The news spread, and this attracted customers in droves.
Homer, Sir Paul's Afghan hound A Paul Smith fashion show in the early days
In 1976, Paul travelled to Paris to showcase his first men’s collection, which featured a mix of casual and semi-formal wear. He rented his friend’s apartment to stage the fashion show with his friends to model for him. It was perhaps the only fashion show in history where you had to ring a bell to enter! Following its success Paul Smith continued to grow, with the first flagship London store opening in 1979 on Floral Street in Covent Garden, London.
Paul Smith photographed by David Bailey
Paul has grown to become one of Britain’s foremost designers. He is renowned for his creative spirit, which combines tradition and modernity. Famous for men’s and women’s tailoring, clothing and accessories collections, Paul Smith specializes in an inventive use of traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge design to create beautifully made, modern pieces.
From Paul Smith's AW 2020 show - backstage, Sonny Vandevelde
“Each shop of ours has its own character – we now have 73 shops all over the world – we try to do something tongue in cheek in each one, for example in the new façade of our shop in Osaka,” says Sir Paul in the video that explains the new collection. “We’re also into sustainability, for example we use recycled denim. We do four collections a year – we are famous for our prints – and for the Autumn Winter 2020 collection I looked at all the colours of 16 minerals found in the Andes mountains in Chile during my trip there. I had a meeting around this very table (in his study), with all the photos and colour inspirations of the mountains. My design room has material from the trip that could fill five suitcases!”
Paul Smith FW2020 Runway Look Paul Smith AW 2020 – backstage
Individuality is key to the Paul Smith ethos and is the theme that carries through all collections and products that the company creates. Paul Smith is synonymous with colour and playful design, most represented by the iconic stripe print which has had many incarnations over the years.
Paul Smith book cover
Sir Paul’s 50 objects
Created in close collaboration with British design legend Sir Paul Smith, Phaidon published Paul Smith this past October, a monograph that captures the unique spirit of the legendary Sir Paul (size: 270 × 205 mm; 264 pages, with 400 colour illustrations; price: £ 49.95 UK, $ 69.95 US). Through the lens of 50 objects, chosen by Sir Paul himself for the inspiration they have provided him over the years, the book explores everything from his very first show in Paris, his Floral Street shop in London, to the evolution of the stripe and his most recent collections and collaborations.
A Kodak camera - from Sir Paul's 50 objects
In this way the book presents his work in a surprising and visually exciting way and shows him to be a truly dynamic and versatile designer. His saying, that ‘you can find inspiration in everything’ means that references are as likely to come from high art as everyday life. Throughout the development of his brand, Paul Smith’s values of curiosity, quality and authenticity have remained constant.
Sir Paul's collection of Matchboxes
The 50 objects presented in the book have been carefully selected to explore not only Sir Paul’s work over the years but also his thought process and the ethos of the brand. One of his favourite rooms in his house is where he stores all the memorabilia that inspires him – racing jerseys (he used to be a cyclist); a pink bucket, a rabbit (he once said he liked rabbits to someone from the US sent him a rabbit), a photo of him with Princess Diana, and shelf-loads of other bric-a-brac.
A Bauhaus book - part of his 50 objects
The objects chosen range from a packet of flower seeds to personal family photographs, and each one has had a significant influence on Sir Paul. Every object illuminates a different aspect of his incredible work as a designer and leads to discussions on subjects from breaking down the formality of wearing a suit, the importance of teamwork and the power of humour. The book provides readers with a wonderfully colourful insight into one of the most creative minds working in design today.
Paul Smith's Mini with his famous stripes
Edited by Tony Chambers, founder and creative director of design and lifestyle consultancy TC & Friends and co-chair of Brainstorm Design, the book includes a foreword by designer Jonathan Ive and also features personal contributions – letters, drawings and photos – from a number of fashion and design heavyweights including Manolo Blahnik, James Dyson, Martin Parr, John Pawson and Alice Rawsthorn who are just a few of Paul’s friends and collaborators.
Colourful yarn - part of Sir Paul's 50 objects
The book’s colourful cloth cover takes its inspiration from one of the 50 objects in the book: yarn wound around card. This simple piece of card is how Sir Paul creates his famous stripes. Yarn is three-dimensional and so it is only when it is wrapped around card that it is possible to see how the different colours reflect off each other and thus how it will look when translated to fabric. It’s not possible to see this on a computer screen.
A Filofax - part of Sir Paul's 50 objects
The way the cover then wraps around to form pockets, into which the book slides, is inspired by a Filofax – another of Paul’s chosen objects in the book. It perfectly encapsulates Sir Paul’s design style.
Paul Smith has not only managed to build an internationally renowned fashion brand with shops across the globe, but one that has remained independent, relevant and true to Sir Paul’s core beliefs. There’s no better way to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary than with this beautiful new monograph.
Sir Paul's apple print seen at his 1990 SS Mens show
A capsule of reimagined archive prints
Sir Paul was among the first to introduce photographic print to menswear in the 1980s, establishing his reputation as pioneer in print design. Now this landmark capsule Autumn Winter collection honours that tradition by reviving and reworking graphics from the Paul Smith archive. Tailored, minimalist silhouettes, and relaxed athleisure form the crux of the collection.
SS02 Country Manor House Bag
These archive graphics span a period from 1988 to 2002 and offer a snapshot of Paul’s colourful, graphic and sometimes surrealist approach to print design.
The Wax Spaghetti that inspired his design Paul Smith in his Spaghetti print shirt
The key print in the collection is the spaghetti print, which was first seen in autumn/winter ’94, inspired by a plate of fake shop display spaghetti that Paul discovered during a visit to Tokyo in the 1980s. Other prints feature a shiny green apple and a floral rose motif. Detailing such as zips in the form of a tie are a strong part of Sir Paul’s aesthetics. The graphics appear on a range of casual jersey pieces, bomber jackets, joggers, and shirts for men and women. A series of trainers, bags, and small accessories complete the range.
Seed packet print shirt by Sir Paul Smith Seed packet jacket from the AW capsule collection
To balance this casual, sportswear-inspired offering, a devoré velvet suit adds another element to the capsule collection, while emphasizing Paul’s expertise in tailoring and appreciation of intricate handwork. The red devoré velvet suit comes with an intricate floral pattern on the jacket and trouser. Inside the jacket, the bright rainbow-stripe lining celebrates another of Paul’s famous design signatures.
Apple print shoe by Paul Smith Joggers by Paul Smith
A forward-looking Foundation
The year 2020 not only saw the 50th anniversary of Paul Smith, but also the launch of Paul Smith’s Foundation. Launched in September 2020, Paul Smith’s Foundation gives helpful advice to creative people. The digital platform makes available his personal archive of all the advice he has given and received over the last 50 years. Having advised many young people looking to grow their own businesses, he now wants to share his learnings with a wider audience. At a moment of celebrating the past, The Foundation is a testament to Paul’s drive to always look ahead.
Spaghetti print jacket from Paul Smith's AW capsule collection Printed Paul Smith dress Paul Smith velour suit Susan Sarandon at the Paul Smith AW20 Show in Paris Backstage at Paul Smith's AW 2020 show Studio shot of Paul Smith's AW 2020 show Paul Smith FW2020 Look from the ramp Paul Smith FW 2020 the designer takes a bow
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