British designer Paul Smith looks back at 50 years of success in fashion

  • Style
  • Tuesday, 03 Nov 2020

As a designer, Paul Smith is certainly a name to be reckoned with. This year sees him celebrating 50 years of plying the fashion trade. It also marks his incredible journey – one that originated from humble beginnings. Photo composite: Paul Smith

As a fashion designer, Paul Smith is certainly a name to be reckoned with. In the industry, he is known for his menswear designs that combine tradition and modernity.

His suits tend to pair bright colours with standout patterns. They certainly brought a different take to what otherwise would be just staid and plain dressing for men.

This year sees Smith celebrating 50 years of plying the fashion trade. It marks his incredible journey – one that originated from humble beginnings.

He remains down-to-earth, despite how successful his brand has grown to be over the long years.

“I’m still blessed with enjoying every day, ” he said in an interview with The Guardian recently.

Read more: Metropolitan Museum Of Art explores fashion's complex relationship with time

The 74-year-old opened his first shop called Paul Smith Vetements Pour Homme in Nottingham on Oct 9,1970. Selling established clothing labels alongside pieces that he had designed himself, it was just 3sqm in size.

In 1976, Smith travelled to Paris to showcase his first men’s collection, which featured a mix of casual and semi-formal wear. Following its success he continued to grow, with the first flagship London store opening in 1979 on Floral Street in Covent Garden, London.

You could say that he is now one of Britain’s foremost designers. It seems individuality is key to the Paul Smith ethos and is a theme that carries through all collections and products created.

From its origins in one small shop, his brand has grown into a global business, selling to five continents, over 70 countries and 3,000 shops. Yet it remains an independent company, with the man himself holding the majority stake.

Speaking to Business Of Fashion this month, he emphasised the importance of making the most of any luck or opportunity by working at it.

“For a lot of people opportunities come their way but they don’t embrace them, ” he explained.

Read more: Remembering Kenzo Takada, the first Japanese designer to conquer Paris fashion

Smith's 50th anniversary is marked by the launch of an eponymous book. It shines a spotlight on his varied inspirations through portraits of fifty objects.

In addition, a 50th anniversary capsule collection of casual menswear and womenswear looks into the vast back-catalogue of photo prints created over the years. Archive graphics spanning from 1988 to 2002 offer a snapshot of Smith’s vivid approach to design.

This year also sees the launch of Paul Smith’s Foundation. It will give helpful advice to creative people. Having advised many young people looking to grow their own businesses, Smith now wants to share his learnings with a wider audience.

Speaking to British journalist Suzy Menkes for Vogue last month, he said that the original idea when he started out as a designer was just to earn a living.

"I met Pauline when I was 21 years of age. And she was the one who gave me the energy and enthusiasm," he commented, on his wife and the role she played in encouraging him to start his first shop.

"We've always been, as you know, basically an independent company. Self-financed. And we've always been together, Pauline and I. So it's never been searching for more, more, more.

"We've never been impressed by private jets or ivory towers. We're just pleased to have health and happiness."

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