The latest chapter in Paul Smith’s fashion epoch sees the launch of two consolidated labels, Paul Smith and PS by Paul Smith. With four decades (and counting) in the business, this is a designer with some serious staying power. Read his story of then and now. . .
Who would you say the Paul smith man/woman is now? Has this changed from when you first started out? That’s always a pretty impossible question to answer as the great thing about Paul Smith is we dress everyone from 7-year-olds to 77-year-olds as well as doing lots of collaborations and special designs. I approach every design completely differently but try to make sure everything is well-considered and has a detail or element of the unexpected.
What do you think has contributed most to your label’s longevity? “Never assume” has been my motto throughout my career. It just means always double-check everything, it’s saved both me and the business from a lot of scrapes!
Is there a project or achievement you’re particularly proud of? I don’t think I could choose just one moment. I’m most proud of my consistency. Since I opened my first shop in Nottingham over forty years ago the business has built very steadily, there’s never been a break-through moment which I think is why there’s never been a break-down moment either!
What advice would you give to designers hoping to start out on their own now? To get as much hands-on experience as possible. Whether that means working in a clothes shop, helping out a local tailors or anything along those lines, just try and get experience of what it’s like working with clothes. That experience is really invaluable.
When you started out, what were your expectations? Have you met them? I’ve never really expected anything. I almost literally fell into fashion when a bad accident ended my dreams of becoming a professional cyclist. In hospital I made new friends from the local art school who introduced me to this world of creativity. From working as a shop-boy to now selling in more than 70 countries the business has grown very steadily and naturally.
What are your hopes for the future of Paul Smith the label?
More of the same! Like I said, I’m most proud of our consistency so if we can keep going the way we have done for the last forty years I’d be very happy!
Was there a moment in your career when you thought “I’ve made it”? No way! My wife, Pauline has always made sure my feet have stayed well and truly on the ground!
What are your memories of Liberty from throughout your career? Liberty has always had real significance for me. It was a dream shop when I was starting out as a designer and a shop-keeper because it sold such an interesting and eclectic mix of things. I had a tiny little three metre by three metre shop in Nottingham and always looked to Liberty for inspiration. I was a huge fan of the founder, Arthur Lasenby, because he was such a pioneer and such a lateral thinker, to build a Tudor mansion in the middle of London is just extraordinary and takes some confidence! He was such an appreciator of craftsmanship and was a really strong supporter of the arts and crafts movement.
Have you ever worked with Liberty print? Absolutely! I’m quite well-known for my use of Liberty print. And I’m still using it now! One of the first things I ever did to earn a little bit of money was buy quarter yards of Liberty print fabric from a shop in Nottingham, sew them into little ties with my Mum’s sewing machine and sell them to my mates. That must have been aged around 18. I’ve been working with Liberty fabric in lots of different ways in my designs ever since.
Where do you see Liberty (and Paul smith!) sitting in the fashion landscape now? Hopefully we’re both offering something unique and something exciting.
Paul Smith is available in-store on 2