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text Marta Innocenti Ciulli - photo Sabine Villiard

January 9, 2017

Paul Smith at Pitti Uomo

More than a designer, Paul Smith is the star of this season’s show

If his real ambition was to become a professional racing cyclist, we should be grateful for the twist of fate that brought Paul Smith to the world of fashion design. As the saying goes, when one door closes another door opens: because of the accident that happened, Paul decided to fall back on his second passion in life: fashion.

It was the year 1970. As soon as he got back on his feet, Paul started deepening his knowledge of art-especially Mondrian and Warhol- and of architecture, design and music with a group of art students he had met at the hospital.
Paul started taking evening classes in tailoring. He started working with his girlfriend Pauline Denyer. She encouraged him to open his first shop in Nottingham, which offered various designers brands alongside some of his own unlabeled models.

Paul’s first pieces met with great success and six years later, in 1976, he sent an entire menswear collection down the runway in Paris. And he invented a style: the best of traditional men’s suits made with the finest British fabrics, combined with unexpected and joyful, bold and even provocative patterns. A style that was designed to break with the past, but which is still very fashionable because it reflects the eclectic personality of its creator.

Paul is also a shrewd and wise businessman. His company, which the big groups of the luxury fashion industry have been desperately trying to take over for years, has grown and expanded to include lifestyle products. Shops opening all over the world, the womenswear collection, shoes and accessories, eyeglasses, luggage, wristwatches, books, perfumes, pens, carpets, chinaware, furniture, and collaborations with Rapha, Burton, John Lobb, Leica, Apple, the childrenswear collection. Last but not least, the Hello, my name is Paul Smith exhibition, which will be touring the world following the debut in Japan in 2016.

Mr. Smith, welcome back to Pitti Uomo. What does it feel like to be here again?
It’s great to be back in beautiful Florence. In 1993, I was the first guest designer to be invited by Pitti for a fashion show, it was a great hour! I chose the Stazione Leopolda as my venue and at the time no one had ever held a fashion show there. Of course, a lot has changed since then!

What do you think about the Pitti Immagine show, which you will attend not only as special guest but also by exhibiting at the trade show?
It’s a great platform for fashion businesses of all different sizes. Pitti Immagine combines promotion and trade very well and is a key part of the men’s fashion calendar. They have buyers come from all over the world, which is just an amazing opportunity if you’re a new business starting out and wanting to meet new customers. I started as a shopkeeper and so I always think about the trade and retail aspects of fashion and design. It was natural to exhibit at the Fortezza, as well as having the fashion show at the Dogana .

You are going to introduce the PS by Paul Smith line. What is the difference as compared with the previous one?
The new PS by Paul Smith line is a more contemporary-focused collection that hopefully people will love.

The boy from Nottingham is now the owner of a fashion empire. What can explain such a success?
It’s all about getting the balance right, making sure that you keep an eye on the commercial aspects but also not take things too seriously. Since it all began, I was determined to never let the job change me. I’m blessed with a sense of humour and the ability to keep my feet on the ground, but I’m also aware of the importance of marketing, of fashion shows and of having many shops.

You describe your style as “classic with twist”.
Designing clothes for men has always come naturally to me. At the beginning of my career, I was designing literally for myself and as I’ve always dressed fairly classically but always with that sense of humour or sense of the unexpected, this really works for me. For example, even if you have to wear a classic navy blue, black or grey suit to work or to a wedding, inject a spot of colour in your socks, tie or cufflinks.

We know that you love Tuscany and have a house near Lucca. Where do you usually go when you are in Tuscany?
There are many reasons to keep coming back. Not least because I have a home on the coast where I spend some time every summer. One of my favorite things to do is cycling around the city walls in Lucca. 

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