A TALK WITH SIR PAUL SMITH
There is a photo in Sir Paul Smith’s personal Instagram account, taken from behind in semi-darkness. What stands out is the outline of his thick hair. This is Paul Smith’s “head”. His distinguishing feature, this head contains all his energy, ironic vision of life and creativity. It is his signature trademark. Like the colours or unexpected prints on a classic garment and all his humour. But over and above everything else, Pauline, the woman who shares his name, at his side for over forty years. The only one, as he himself says, who manages to keep his feet firmly on the ground. Because everything that surrounds Paul Smith is lightness, passion and unlimited curiosity. His secret? There are no secrets, he simply looks ahead with positivity and wakes up early in the morning! We interviewed Sir Paul Smith, Pitti Immagine Special Guest in January, who will be showing at the Dogana. This is what he said:
What does it mean for you to return at Pitti Uomo after more than 20 years? And what do you expect from this new experience in Florence? Any anticipation about the event?
I feel very honored to have been asked to come back. I remember showing in the Stazione Leopolda back in 1993. I was the first designer to show on the Pitti schedule and the first designer to ever show in Leopolda – back then it was just an abandoned train station but since Pitti Immagine have done lots of amazing things there. Pitti now holds a very important place on the men’s schedule as it combines trade with promotion. As someone who started out working as a shop-keeper I really appreciate the importance of balancing those two things.
What about PS by Paul Smith, which are the main inspiration sources? Which kind of man you have in mind for it?
It’s really for the modern man who wants a wardrobe that he can live his everyday life in. There’s a suit in very hard-wearing, durable Cordura fabric, a Macintosh that’s reversible so you get two coats in one, a little jacket which packs down into its own pocket and many more things that hopefully people will really want to use and wear!
I'm a follower of your personal Instagram account and I'm so impressed by the colours, the faces, smiling people, lights, shadows, ironic pics... so energetic! What does a word like energy mean to you? Both in your personal and professional life...
I know that people tell me I’ve got lots of it! I’ve never had a ‘lie-in’ in my entire life, I get up very early every morning, swim first thing and then am in the office by 6AM every day. Every day is a joy and so I never really feel short of energy. I’m a very positive person both in work and in my personal life and so I feel that has a positive effect on my energy levels.
Tell us something about your "normal" daily routine... and what about sport, like swimming and cycling? How its values have influenced your approach to your work?
The biggest influence has been my wife, Pauline. From having a tiny little shop in Nottingham to selling in over seventy countries around the world, Pauline has kept my feet on the ground throughout it all. I’ve always tried to keep an awareness of who the Paul Smith customer is, lots of designers disappear into their ivory towers and lose sight of who it is they’re working for and who’s playing their bills. I spend a lot of time in the shops speaking to the customers and understanding who they are and what they need.
If I tell you "1976" what would you think about? How was Paul Smith then and how is he now?
Very much the same in lots of respects! We’ve grown very gradually and very organically and so I’ve done a little bit of everything along the way. When I had my first men’s show I really was doing everything myself from driving the van of samples from London to Paris, to putting out the chairs in the show venue for the press and buyers to sit on. I’m still doing lots of things but now just have a bit more help!
How is the Brit Style today? Can we still talking about it and about the idea of "classics with a twist"?
That idea of ‘classic with a twist’ is very much in the roots of Paul Smith. We’re known for making classical items but with an element of the unexpected. It’s less obvious now than it once was but it’s still a very integral part of what we do. We always look to add a detail of the unexpected into our clothing, that really is the Paul Smith DNA, whether it’s a brightly colored lining inside a plain navy suit jacket or a bold print on the underside of the cuff of a simple white shirt.
You have been photographing for a long time and your father used to... What does photography mean to you? How, in your opinion, in these years has changed the way a brand communicates with photography and visuals?
I always say “fashion is about today and tomorrow”. Which means you have to be looking ahead and curious and excited about what’s coming next. This applies to everything from design to promotion. Taking photos is just a way of keeping track of my curiosity, I get inspiration from lots of unexpected places (as you’ll see on my Instagram!) and my photography acts a visual diary of all of that. As for how brands communicate, I try not to get too caught-up with what other people do, what photos they use and how they present themselves, it’s important to be aware of it all but for me it’s really about what comes from the heart.