Once again, Paul Smith wants to re-in­vent fash­ion


Be­fore you flare up, con­sider if it’s worth the reper­cus­sions

ALL OF US, like fash­ion in its end­less cy­cles of rinse and re­peat in­ven­tion, go through our sar­to­rial phases. And it can be an ar­du­ous jour­ney. You may start off safe, stick­ing to the clas­sics, then ven­ture into the cal­cu­lated, and per­haps wind up in some mad spi­ral as you de­scend into the throes of avant-gardism. Then some­how you find your bal­ance again, like a spin­ning top that re­turns to the sta­ble mid­dle, oc­ca­sion­ally tilt­ing to one side or the other ever so slightly, but still keep­ing your­self rel­a­tively cen­tered.

Cycli­cal phases are not just the ex­pe­ri­ence of fash­ion con­sumers. De­sign­ers go through them as well, with few ex­cep­tions. These ex­cep­tions would be Rei Kawakubo, Juun.J, the late Alexan­der McQueen, and Sir Paul Smith, who have main­tained their po­si­tions in the so­lar sys­tem of fash­ion de­sign while the or­bits of oth­ers veer wildly from one uni­verse to the next. You may not ap­pre­ci­ate their style and aes­thetic, but you can­not think them dull, un­o­rig­i­nal or without an opin­ion.

Paul Smith, how­ever, has a warmer façade, em­bla­zoned with quirks and the sense of hu­mour of a street-wise rel­a­tive. He turns 70 in a cou­ple of months, but there’s zero ev­i­dence of the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian in him. Smith is up at half past six, do­ing laps at the pool be­fore cy­cling to work. He de­signs 12 col­lec­tions a year but still has the creative juice to cre­ate the many eclec­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions with nu­mer­ous ran­dom la­bels.

In the last few months, he’s spent a sig­nif­i­cant sum of money re­struc­tur­ing the com­pany. The in­ten­tion is to align the many dif­fu­sion lines within Paul Smith.

In the com­ing sea­son, there will only be two main lines ‒ Paul Smith and PS by Paul Smith ‒ and menswear and wom­enswear will be shown on the same run­way. Smith’s pres­ence will still be felt in the form of pre­sen­ta­tions on var­i­ous fash­ion plat­forms across the style cap­i­tals of the world.

He clearly be­lieves an ex­cess of fash­ion has de­pre­ci­ated the in­her­ent value of the work put into each item of cloth­ing. At the same time, the merg­ing of menswear and wom­enswear also sug­gests that how we think about fash­ion to­day is evolv­ing. It says some­thing be­cause Smith has al­ways ad­vo­cated steady growth and or­ganic de­vel­op­ment. He tells us more about why his re­cent de­ci­sions are nec­es­sary. Tell us more about the ra­tio­nale be­hind the re­struc­tur­ing of the com­pany. You’ve spent £1 mil­lion to do this, so it can’t be a de­ci­sion that’s made over the course of a sea­son. Is it some­thing that has been brew­ing in the back of your mind for a while?

Of course, it’s been some time in the mak­ing. I’ve been work­ing in the in­dus­try for a very long time and I’ve cer­tainly never seen it as chaotic as it is right now. The speed with which ev­ery­thing is chang­ing is very dif­fi­cult to get your head around. The fish pond is the same size as be­fore but there are a lot more brands fish­ing from it. It’s more com­pet­i­tive than it’s ever been. The changes we’ve made to sim­plify

the col­lec­tions’ struc­ture are meant to give us more fo­cus and clar­ity. It’s never been more im­por­tant than now to have clar­ity.

Do you think the fash­ion de­sign cy­cle is out of sync with the world to­day? If so, how?

I am not sure if it is out of sync. There is cer­tainly a high level of de­mand for more, more, more all the time now. Whether with so­cial me­dia, with clothes or with any­thing. I’m not sure if fash­ion is out of sync or if it’s just due to the speed that which ev­ery­thing in the world is chang­ing.

An­drog­yny is all the rage now. More so than ever, women seem to be buy­ing menswear, for the fit, the vol­ume, the feel and tex­ture of the clothes, per­haps. Is that also part of the rea­son for merg­ing the men’s and women’s lines?

We’re known for our tai­lor­ing, our shirts, pieces that many peo­ple as­so­ci­ate with menswear. Grace Cod­ding­ton has shot one of my men’s white shirts on a fe­male model in four or five con­sec­u­tive is­sues of US Vogue. That was one of the rea­sons I started de­sign­ing wom­enswear, be­cause so many women were wear­ing my men’s clothes. So yes, it’s re­ally about go­ing back to those roots and mak­ing sure the men’s and women’s col­lec­tions come from the same place.

On to more jovial things. The No. 9 col­lec­tion has a fas­ci­nat­ing pat­tern. What brought about the im­pulse and de­ci­sion to cre­ate this col­lec­tion now?

I opened my shop at No. 9 Albe­marle Street in May­fair more than two-and-a-half years ago. With a young Lon­don-based architecture firm called 6A, we de­signed a very unique façade made from cast iron for the shop. In a way we never could have ex­pected, the façade be­came so pop­u­lar it won awards and is now reg­u­larly vis­ited by tour groups, just to see how amaz­ing it is. It’s the pat­tern on the façade that fea­tures on the No. 9 small leather goods col­lec­tion ‒ orig­i­nally in cast iron, now in leather.

How ex­ten­sive will No. 9 be in the fu­ture?

The pat­tern can be in­ter­preted in many ways. For AW16 it is on women’s silk shirts and the lining of my new ‘Coat to Travel In’, as well as on a col­lec­tion of ac­ces­sories. So it will cer­tainly be part of the col­lec­tion for some time to come.

You have cred­ited your wife, Pauline, with teach­ing you to be a de­signer. Can you tell us what ex­actly she taught you?

Ev­ery­thing re­ally. She taught me lots of tech­ni­cal skills be­cause she trained in couture at the Royal Col­lege, so when I was start­ing out she taught me all about pad-stitch­ing, pro­por­tion and so much more. But she’s also taught me to keep my feet on the ground.

But the quirk­i­ness in your work, like the socks that you make with asyn­chro­nous polka dots, or the glen plaid with a bright yel­low check or light blue, rather than the stan­dard grey, surely that’s you and your whimsy at work? Or did she en­cour­age that to flourish?

Pauline taught me a lot about the ba­sic rules of mak­ing beau­ti­ful cloth­ing. The bril­liant thing about that is, once you know the rules you can start break­ing them. Those un­ex­pected de­tails are just me break­ing the rules.

There is cer­tainly a high level of de­mand for more, more, more all the time now

THIS SPREAD CLOCK­WISESir Paul Smith; play­ing on vol­umes and colours this sea­son at Paul Smith; pat­terns and prints are a point of fo­cus; con­trast­ing styles work won­ders; ac­ces­sories this sea­son fea­ture bright colours and bold prints

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