A collaboration with Led Zeppelin…designing numerous fashion collections worldwide… or jumping in a giant pit of rubber banana’s?!!…It’s all in a day’s work for British icon Paul Smith
It takes only one flash of his infamous bold, multi-coloured stripes to recognise Paul Smith’s signature. He’s designed for Rapha, Pinarello, Leica, David Bowie, the Talking heads, and many others. He’s created spectacles, fragrance, furniture, fine china, vinyl sleeves and even the “LOVE” needlepoint wall hanging that hung in Carrie’s apartment in Sex and the City.
Paul’s colourful creativity and wonderful eccentricities have made him one of the most diverse, adored, respected and successful designers in the fashion industry. He designs 7 collections each season for the Paul Smith Woman and Man, was one of the first designers to cross over to the Japanese market and today is the most successful European fashion label in Japan with over 200 stores throughout!!!
He also happen’s to be one of the most charming, playful and loveable men you will ever meet!!!
I had the privilege of sitting down for a morning chat with Mr. Smith, to talk rock n roll, being knighted, fashion, and everything else in between.
Music plays a big part in creating the theme of your collections…
Sir Paul Smith: Yes, the current one was The Doors. It was a little bit ethnic and very rock and roll. My main collections often have influence from music.
We’ve just done a collaboration with Led Zeppelin as well. Jimmy Page has personally remastered all the main albums, (theres 6 in total). We’ve done these beautiful scarves, big 1.5 meters scarves! Woven, jacquard, based on all the album covers, and theres only 50 of each!
What do you listen to at work?
This morning, it was jazz oddly enough?! I was listening to Herbie Hancock which is from the 60’s, just because it was on top of the pile really, haha! Often I listen to vinyl, I’ve got vinyl over there, but it can be anything. … It can vary from something you know from 30 years ago to something this week.
To say your a multi-faceted designer is an understatement! Is there somewhere you look too specifically for inspiration when your creating and designing for all these different projects?
I think basically observation is where I get all my ideas from. Like this office you know?! It’s full of the sort of things you can take inspiration from… I mean it could be a bit of texture on a book …, or how you got turquoise, yellow and pink together in some magazines or papers you have sitting in a pile over there…, some embroidery from something someone just sent me in. It could be an art exhibition, or it could come from a period of time, a movie. I mean you can get ideas from anything.
The hardest thing is when your creating all these different collections and for all these different markets, is making each one count and stand up in it’s own right.
One of the most unique things about you and about Paul Smith as a brand, is this intimate and personal feel that you have managed to create despite being such a dynamic, and competitive global company….
I’m still privately owned which is quite unique, I’m still the boss, and I’m still here everyday. I get here at 6 every morning. I swim about 5am each day, then I’m here in the office. So its a very hands on sort of business. Very personal.
I started working in shops when I was 15, and then started my own shop when I was in my early twenties. So I really LOVE shops, its not just like “I have a shop”.
No two Paul Smith stores are the same….Often the design or interior of a Paul Smith store is just as exciting to see as the pieces for sale…
When I started opening shops I was determined that my shops would all look different.: I always look for the buildings with character if I can… and then I work around the building.
We have 12 full time staff here in the building, architects and interior designers who work with me around this table every week working on new projects, concepts and stores.
You have recently been doing quite a bit of photography, and I only just found out that you shoot your own campaigns…
Yes, I shoot all our own campaigns (because they didn’t think I was doing enough, so they thought they could flit a bit more in my schedule right?! haha)
I’ve been taking pictures since I was 11, because my father was an amateur photographer and I used to develop, take and process a lot together with him. I’ve also worked for a lot of magazines as well. I just did 18 pages for Figaro France, I’ve worked for Elle, I just did 6 pages for Elle Japan, I’ve done Numero….
Do you enjoy being behind the lens?
Well I like being scared you know. All these things I do, are sort of away from the day job. Because the day job I can do in quite… a very relaxed way. Because I’ve been doing it for so long.
I mean it’s still challenging and I still got to get it right, and obviously as you know the world is a very odd place at the moment and business around the world is more challenging than it used to be you know, but I can do that quite comfortably so to speak, not easily, but comfortably.
You were married and knighted on the same day?!!! You must be the only one in history to do that?!!!
Hahahah! By chance that was! Completely by chance!
We’d been living together for years and years and years me and Pauline; and she said she would like to get married, and so I said “Sure, ok.” So we arranged the date, you know like four months in advance like most people do it, and then one morning I was going through all my mail at home. There’s Amex, and the gas bill and then I saw one from Buckingham Palace.
I took it into work for the girls to open and one of them said “Oh Paul, you should look at this one, the Queen wants to Knight you!” I wasn’t sure at first but then I thought.. “Ok”. A few weeks past and we decided looking at my schedule maybe we should find out when it was. So one of the girls called Buck House and when she put the phone down she said ‘Your never going to believe this?! But it’s on the day your getting married!!!”
I called Pauline to tell her and she said “Looks like it’s going to be a very busy day!” I was knighted at 11 0’clock and married at 4 O’Clock. Buck House in the morning and the church in the afternoon!
Most people know that your first love was cycling and that you dreamed of becoming a pro racing cyclist long before fashion. You’re still very much involved in the cycling world and also just designed the posters this past year for the Tour de France in London. Do you manage to sneak some time for a bike ride and just to relax?
Oh yes, the Tour de France posters, I did those too.!!! haha Gosh, it’s so so diverse my life!
Yeah I do cycle quite a bit. have a month off in the summer. I have a home in Italy and I go there with Pauline mid July for a month, and I do take it off. Then I cycle every day!
Lastly, going back to your father;…He famously edited a picture long before photoshop was around, which made you appear to be riding a magic carpet high up in the air. Do you think you get your playful, mischievous side from him?
Haha, that’s right! That picture is probably here somewhere?!
Oh, I hope so yes, absolutely. I mean one of the girls complained recently; She said “The problem working for you, is that I have a stomach ache from laughing!!” So you know that was a good complaint, I thought “That’ll do, that’ll do”
We have such a laugh the whole time. In fact just yesterday we all got the real giggles over something… I can’t remember what it was, I think it was a photograph of me laying in an enormous bed of rubber bananas?!!!
I was in Japan recently, and I was with my press officer and we walked past a kids shop and they had this huge sort of swimming pool of these brightly coloured bananas. And I had such a heavy, sort of busy week and I went in and sort of whispered “Can I go in there?!” and the guard said yes so I dived in for a photograph!…and you know? they’re great stress relievers those sorts of things!
Do think having a laugh, and not taking yourself so seriously or being as pretentious as other people in the fashion industry often can be, has been important to creating the success of your brand?
Absolutely! Well, in my case yes.
Sometime’s it’s not always though, I mean sometimes its a bit detrimental. A lot of people in the world can be a bit insecure. So when they’re buying a commodity like a piece of clothing, or a car or going to a restaurant it’s often much more about status and what their trying to say like “I wear this” or “I’m a member of this club” or “I’m very fashionable” …so sometimes I think my way is not so good for that type of person.
But then you know…, you’re only on the earth for quite a short amount of time, so I figure its just great to have a great day everyday!
PAUL SMITH x LED ZEPPELIN
Words by Tracy Kawalik and Sir Paul Smith
Photos by Tracy Kawalik and Paul Smith