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