Once upon a time, I was sleeping with a very well-dressed man. While walking to the bathroom in his striped shirt, I realised the lining on the inside his cuffs was a contrasting floral pattern. It was a secret detail that only a select few - the wearer and those familiar with the brand - would’ve known about.
“I like this level of attention to detail,” I said to him. “It reminds me of the Mies van der Rohe quote God is in the details.”
“That’s Paul Smith for you.” he said.
So, I went into this exhibition at the Design Museum, London, knowing nothing about Paul Smith except that he was a fashion designer with a passion for secret linings and the colour pink (as everything was branded pink). I left with hardly any more understanding about his clothes, but utterly enthralled and entertained by the man, his ethos, and his devotion to detail.
One element I noticed early on was the lack of distinction between the man, Paul Smith, and the brand, Paul Smith. In the introduction panel, the two terms were used interchangeably:
“Paul Smith has established himself as a leading and uniquely British designer… Famous for its clothing and accessorise collections, Paul Smith specialises in an inventive use of traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge design.”
At first I thought it was just an unprofessional typo but it soon became clear that the brand was a reflection of the man, and the man played up to the image of the brand.
Paul Smith - the designer and his clothes - is fun, creative, engaging and unpretentious. Each room in the exhibition represented this: from his humble beginnings in a 3x3m cupboard-sized shop, to the concluding video showing him cycling to Paris SS'14 fashion week in a simple shirt and magenta socks, brushing down his models and patting them on the back, everything about him appears so down-to-earth. He likes motivational quotes (as seen by the display 'Inside Paul’s Head’), and continuously acknowledges his wife Pauline for his success. Smith is playful and his clothes draws influence from just about everything under the sun.
While the majority of the exhibition focuses on Smith’s rise to fame, rather than his clothes, his 'Personal Archive’ display is nothing short of amazing. Showcasing select pieces from 2000-present, they reinforce all the elements the Paul Smith brand is best known for: creativity, quality, 'Britishness’ (a dubious term that feels force-fed throughout this whole exhibition) and passion for secret details.
“I like my clothes to hold a secret - a sober grey suit with a brightly coloured lining, ties with unexpected linings.”
This exhibition is neither a fashion show nor a retrospective: it is not just about clothes or one intelligent designer. It is a celebration of one man’s positive work ethics, his love for his job, and the success of his whole team. It is a much-needed antidote to all the drama queens of the fashion industry, who take up too much space in the media. Most of all, it is a reminder that - if you are curious enough to look closely - joy, beauty and inspiration is in the details.
Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith is on at Design Museum, London, until 09 March 2014.