Sunday, April 24, 2011

In praise of Paul Smith

When Ella shared a few little anecdotes from the morning she spent hanging out in Paul Smith's workshop with a bunch of fellow bloggers last month, my admiration for the Mr Smith swelled into a fully fledged love. In interviews Paul Smith has always come off as truly sincere and more often than not I'm more interested in the man himself than the clothes he designs.


For somebody who has seen and done so much his childlike enthusiasm and unerring excitement for the things he loves is reassuring and a testament that time needn't replace passion with nonchalance. Ella's descriptions of him rushing around his studio, pulling rubber ducks, train sets and other notable knick-knacks from cupboards to share with them instead of dedicating his time to spieling about his new fragrance (the real reason for the meeting) really stayed with me. Ever since I've been pondering the feasibility of asking him to be my dad/confidante/uncle/mentor just so that I can be on the receiving end of such a jolly stream of wisdom and damn right coolness. 

When I punched the words 'paul smith cycling' into youtube after strict instructions from my friend Josh and I watched the above video, it sealed the deal. I sat smiling as I watched the screen (maybe in the same way my Mum used to watch the screen back in the days when George Clooney was on ER) but less out of inappropriately lusty affection and more in line with my simplistic utterings of 'he's just so nice..' Smith talks about his teenage love of racing bikes and the dreams he had of cycling professionally before a careless run-in with a car left him in hospital for three months. He ended up falling in with a local group of art, design and fashion students and after deciding that realistically he would never be good enough to race professionally found himself attracted to the world of design. His love of bikes has remained though and it shows in the video (from a couple of years ago when he collaborated with Derby-based Mercian Cycles) as he smooths the leather of the Brooks saddle and talks about how using larger nails to hammer the fabric onto the seat was "I suppose like saying you were part of a certain club or something." An already existing love for something seems to be the only catalyst when it comes to collaborations which is plainly why Paul Smith as a brand has always maintained such a strong and interesting identity. 

To me Paul Smith has exactly the same sort of allure of Margaret Howell; both two designers who have such firm and consistent ideas about their personal tastes and create products that have a connection to 'real life' as the majority of us would recognise it. I like that Margaret Howell swims in the freezing cold East Anglian sea and that Paul Smith gets excited about what he loves and very importantly that he treats his employees so well (something I learnt from an ex-Paul Smith sales assistant I worked with back at Topshop). It's little nuggets of information like this that push along my interest in their brands and in all honesty might have just as much influence over me deciding that I'd like to buy something from their shops as any other factor. Of course their clothes aren't cheap but they come not just as an individual item but also with a clear idea in each case of Smith and Howell's likes and loves, sewn into the cloth just as plainly as the seams.

6 comments:

Samantha said...

my boyfriend recently bought a brooks sadle and it is so lovely to look at. i have so little need for expensive riding bags but the brooks leather ones are wonderful. wouldn't mind a paul smith boke either...

mary said...

Paul Smith is so adorable, he reminds me of my dad!

My dad also has a hobby in cycling; I think he owns around 15-20 bikes!
xxx

Caitlin said...

A very well written piece (the final statement is beautiful) about such a delightful, humble, creative, quality British man/ brand. x

celine said...

what an excellent video!
paul smith and margaret howell (and also peter jensen) are the only designers i follow. they just seem to keep it real (for lack of a better term)! :)

elisabeth said...

so true about the whole smith/howell thing. something very british about it all as well and you know they will never change with the trends because they dont need too, their designs are soooo classic!
thanks for posting this, was lovely to find out more about paul smith as a person not just a designer!

R A said...

Sticks to his guns, he does!