A conversation with Sir Paul Smith
04 Dec 2009
We caught up with Paul Smith over a cup of tea and asked him couple of questions.
It has been noted that Paul Smith's brands dont get a whole lot of blog love - somthing we think is pretty unfair. Lets face it the few coorporates that seem to tirelessly dominate the blogs have made their money from relentlessly selling nothing short of land fill, Paul Smith has always stood for quality, honesty &integrity of design - something that's pretty unique for a business of the size of his. We were lucky enough to catch up with Paul Smith to talk stripes, the swinging sixties, and get some advice on how to run a reputable business, some of which is captured below. We hope you enjoy this insight as much as we did.
GH: You've been through at least a couple of recessions, how do you feel fashion changes at these points and what have you done?
PS: I've been through quite a lot of recessions and the main thing i've done is not do anything. I've not changed my strategy at all. I've never reduced prices, never lost confidence and always stuck by my principals and thats always got me through. We are up on last year and i think unlike many other brands i've always pioneered individuality. When i travel, i often see the same brands doing exactly the same thing in different cities and that's not what we are about. When i started it was about having an idea from your head & heart and hoping someone liked it. These days we are so over saturated with internet, t.v., and travel, everybody is looking at each other, if you do that its like looking at yesterday's paper, old news. Also unlike many other companies that have laid off people, made cut backs for their employees, we haven't done any of that because we have always ran a modest, down to earth business!
GH: Thats great to hear, its interesting looking at Paul Smith from an external point of view because to us it seems there's never been a sacrifice of quality or integrity of design.
P.S: I was so fortunate to meet Pauline my girlfriend who is now my wife when i was 21, she had just come from the Royal College of Art. She was a fashion designer. She came out of the era when they were still teaching couture fashion, it was very much about quality, cut, how things were made, shape, proportion, conviction and newness; she taught me about design. I had another teacher who was a military tailor who was making clothes for ceremonial dress - it was all about the job of clothing to make you look powerful, elegant, slim or even to make you stand up straight and that was all done by the way clothes were constructed. The combination of my two teachers meant quality was always high on the agenda.
The other great thing was because i met Pauline when i was 21 and we are still together, we were happy, there was never any searching for anything else - we were always just happy to have a nice living and our health and happiness we never had to over expand, we never borrowed money and i believe this was an enormous factor.
GH: You've been working continuously for many years, where do keep finding inspiration?
P.S: I find inspiration from everywhere, for instance on the way here we passed a tiny building squashed between two big ones in Clerkenwell - for me that makes me think of a small pocket on a big jacket or a small garment in a big window, just by observing around you, its all there if you want it - you've got to train your eyes to look. I remember I was walking down the road in Soho about 15 years ago with the director of Bartle Bogart Hegarty and as usual i was talking too much, he said to me, "It's mad Paul, you walk down the street and see 50 things and i only see about 3," i always thought that was a great compliment because he was a pretty cool guy - very good at his job.
G.H: As you know our shop is called Goodhood, what's your favourite "hood" in the big smoke?
P.S: err? Hood means... ?
G.H: Sorry eh it means neighbourhood..
P.S: oh ok.. ehm.. well i have a problem with the word favourite, i get asked that a lot, it doesn't exist for me it depends on my mood. If i walk from the National Gallery to the Natural History Museum then suddenly that area is great!. Obviously out here has a lot of youth and energy and thats great! It reminds me of when i first opened in Covent Garden in 79 - I was the only shop there. I used to stand outside the shop on Saturdays shouting down the street " Is there anybody out there?"
G.H: You were known as one of the first people to import toys and curiosities from Japan, How do you feel Japan has changed since you first did that?
P.S: I first went to Japan in 1982, it was all about matt black objects. Matt black calculators, gadgets, lighters, they were remarkable at the time. Now sadly the whole world is overspilling with products, because of e-commerce you can buy things from anywhere. When i first went it was such a unique country, i felt so privileged to go there. I used to come back with suitcases of stuff and get to customs, when they asked if i had anything to declare id ask them if 400 cigarette lighters had to be declared? Id get in so much trouble, because things light lighters you had to have special forms to import. I'd be there for hours, but it was worth it, it helped my shop get established. I had actually started doing this before i went to Japan, my first shop opened in '79 and it was a 12 foot square room with no windows. On my trips down to London i'd pick stuff up from museums and art galleries and sell them in my shop in Nottingham.
Actually Carla Sozzani from Corso Commo in Milan and also Collette from Paris have both told me that they were inspired by my Floral Street shop when they were setting up their own shops. Seeing so many diverse things in one place. It really comes back to the fact i had a 12 foot square space to play with and i wanted people to come back, to find it interesting.
G.H: Lastly have you got any advice for young entrepreneurs out there?
P.S: Have a point of reason, aim for something specific and get some experience. Anything will do, even working in a pub can give you the experience of organisation you'll need to go forward. Get out there and do it!
G.H: Thanks for coming to see us, its been great to spend some time with you. See you soon!