Sir Paul


He’s one of my best fashion designer : simple, funny  and british.  He was born in 1947 in nottingham, england. He left school at the age of 16 with no career plans or qualifications. he was propelled by his father to take up a menial job at the local clothing warehouse. In 1970 paul smith opened a tiny boutique in nottingham with the encouragement of his girlfriend pauline denyer (now wife) and a small amount of savings. Paul started to take evening classes for tailoring and with the help of pauline (an RCA fashion graduate), he was able to create what he wanted. by 1976 paul showed his first menswear collection in paris under the paul smith label. today there are 12 different collections; paul smith, paul smith women, PS by paul smith, paul smith jeans, paul smith london, r.newbold (japan only), paul smith accessories, paul smith shoes, paul smith fragrance,paul smith watches, paul smith pens and paul smith furniture and ‘things’. paul smith rugs, china, spectacles and fragrance are made under license.

what is the best moment of the day?
I actually really do love getting up in the morning, really early. I normally leave my house about 5:30 or 6 every morning and then I go swimming. no matter where I am – be it paris or tokyo, I’ll still find a pool. I wouldn’t say its the best moment of the day but I like it very much.

what kind of music do you listen to at the moment?
at the moment I’m listening to charlotte gainsbourg her new album, you know the daughter of jane birkin and serge gainsbourg. she’s a nice actress but I like her music
as well. also I’m listening to fleet foxes, bob dylan. really it depends on my mood, florence and the machines… lots of things.

do you listen to the radio?
I listen to the radio in my car when I go swimming. normally the news, so I suppose I catch up on world events then.


what books do you have on your bedside table?
I don’t really read books very often. my concentration span is very small. if I do read I tend to read biographies or autobiographiesbecause I feel like I can identify sometimes with how people have dealt with life – that’s quiet interesting. I’ve read things like yves saint laurent, christian dior, chanel but then completly opposite such as books by hanif kureishi, he’s a friend of mine. I’ve read all his books, they’re normally about sex and the 1960’s and rock n’ roll. I just started patty smith’s new book ‘just kids’. I know patty smith quiet well and I actually did an interview with her recently, I’m a big fan of hers. generally I tend to dip into books and not really read them cover to cover. I’m naughty like that, however my wife reads books. my wife read proust actually and she reads quiet alot of heavy stuff like ‘war and peace’, so I get her to tell me about things.


do you read fashion magazines?
never. no magazines. I don’t want to clutter my head about what other people are doing.

where do you get news from?
just the radio, I don’t use the internet at all. I don’t use email. I have 3 assistants, they do for me.

part of your work is to observe how women you have any preferences?
when I first started to dress women it was really because there was really a lot of demand from women who were girlfriends or wives of my male customers. so they would often buy a sweater or a raincoat or a jacket, back when the trend was wearing things very big. then when it came a time when people started wearing things a bit smaller they said to me ‘oh, can we have some women’s clothes’. in the beginning it was just about men’s clothes for women, but just a 5th of women who would want that. recently its been changing alot. I still like the masculine look on a girl the best, but I can’t survive just doing that so I have to do a bit more feminine pieces as well.

what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing?
I try to wear clothes that are appropriate to me personally, so I tend to wear suits or jackets because I think I look better in things which are structured rather than casual zip up clothes.

do you have any pets?
for about 15 years I had 2 dogs and when they passed on
I didn’t want anymore, because I’m traveling 7 months of
the year so it’s too much of a responsibility for my wife.
when you were a child, did you want to become a designer?
no. I didn’t want to become a fashion designer until I was about 18/ 19. previously I wanted to be a sports person – a racing cyclist.
where do you work on your designs and projects?
I work on them everywhere – all the time. I’ve always got a pocket full of paper. I meet up with all my assistant designers almost every day, so its a constant thing. its never a conscious thing where I sit down and make a design.
do you discuss your work with other designers?
no. I mean I know alot of the other designers but I don’t discuss it with others. we say ‘hello’ to each other but we don’t discuss work .
describe your style, like a good friend of yours would describe it.
the way paul smith is always described is classic with a small twist. a lot of the things from the outside are very simple and easy to wear but on the inside you discover brightly colored lining or button holes that are purple or every button which is different, so its always got a sense of humor (or as they say ‘a twist’).

you are designer and chairman of your company. are you passionate in your involvement on the business side, as well as the designing?
yes, I’m chief executive, principal shareholder and chief designer of the brand.following the ‘savile row meets mr bean’ idea, as a designer I love using items from the yorkshire textile industry, the northampton shoemakers. I create collections that are acceptable in almost any circumstances due to their unmistakable englishness, but augmented by the unexpected. the reason I’ve been successful is because I know that VAT means Value Added Tax not vodka and tonic. despite being located in more than 50 countries, every paul smith store is individual. I mix fashion with an extensive selection of jewellery, books, art, antiques and an array of interesting and beautiful toys.

please describe an evolution in your work, from your first projects to the present day.
I’m designing 13 collections every season, so that’s 26 a year and that’s a heck of alot of difference. in the beginning it was a very simple, very english type of clothing for men but now I design a jeans collection, 3 women’s collections and I do spectacles etc. its a big difference.

what project has given you the most satisfaction?
I enjoy challenges. I like all the different projects I have worked really hard on. of course I most often design clothes but I also enjoy designing different things, like furniture…

are there any celebrities you would love to dress?
actually a lot of my customers are young architects and designers, which are quite relaxed with themselves,or writers and actresses not looking for the ‘uniform’ of other fashion designers. I’m not so attracted to celebrity, apart from ‘old pop stars’ I continue to design cloths for- mick jagger, brian ferry, david bowie – there are of course also younger singers, but we do not promote our collections through celebrities.

is there any designer and/or architect from the past, you appreciate a lot?
people like dior with his new look in the 1940’s , chanel when she released women from was very solid and put women into trousers, yves saint laurent when he was so pioneering where with his ‘le smoking’ suit which had trousers of an evening dress, …so you know the real greats that’s who I like.

and those still working / contemporary?
I use to be quite a big fan for a while of comme de garcons, but I think recently its not so relevant as it use to be. I like good people like alexander mc queen
– he’s a clever guy(note: at time of this interview paul smith did not know that alexander passed away). john galliano, dolce and gabbana, when you filter it down
they are all quite clever. they are always too extravagant for their fashion shows because they treat it like theatre, but when you actually look into their collections
they’re relatively simple.

what advice would you give to the young?
there are a lot of designers in the world and a lot of producers of everything. so you’ve got to really analyze what it is that you have to offer and then try and get as much
experience as you can as a student, like working in a shop or assisting somebody… learn your trade ! you can’t do things too quickly. you have to really know what you’re doing.

what are you afraid of regarding the future?
right now, its over consumption and over expansion and greed that we’ve witnessed in the last 10 or 15 years. I think we have to readjust and be more humble with our lives and be more satisfied with love and companionship, with conversation. be more down to earth!of course we all like money and we all like to do well but it might be something that we have to do in a more humble way.

— paul smith‘s interview by designboom —


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