Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sir Paul Smith lectures at Nottingham Contemporary

As part of the Nottingham Contemporary's celebration of their 1st birthday Nottingham's own infamous designer Sir Paul Smith was invited to discuss his inspirations, recollections and business theories about being a designer.

Sir Paul Smith
Image courtesy of

Even though Fashionstrand normally formally report on events such as this, it would be almost unjust to Sir Paul Smith to not add our own spark of personality to what we thought about the lecture. One thing you must know is Sir Paul Smith is down-to-earth, charming and extremely fun.

The designer actually had no interest in fashion until his professional cycling dreams were crushed through an accident and after regularly attending The Bell Jar pub in Nottingham he met various design students from the local art college. He became involved with a fashion design lecturer, Pauline, who came up from London to teach. Pauline was searching for a manager for the premises in Bridlesmith Gate and Paul volunteered, which he admitted he had no clue what he was doing at the time. Through this he decided to open his own little 12sqft shop which had no windows, where he joked customers mistook the dog for him due to the same "big nose, long hair".

"You can't do it without doing it"
One of Sir Paul Smith's big philosophies was "The job always changes you, you never change the job" - Edward Debono, which is partly the reason rather than relying on the small shop, he filled up schedule with styling in magazines and working for United Colors of Benetton to gain extra cash. Sir Paul Smith clearly learnt a great deal through practical experience in the fashion industry, as he realised "VAT did not mean Vodka and Tonic".
After 7 years of hard work, Paul and Pauline collectively designed a collection, educating the audience that a collection is called a collection because the colours and fabrics compliment each other. He travelled to Paris on his own with the garments packed into suitcases, where he waited for clients to come which luckily 2 came in the last day. We found this interesting as achievement not only comes out of hard work, but also fate, however pushing yourself makes you more open to opportunities. 
Looking back he humbly exclaims "The reason I'm here is because of that shop and Pauline."

'Importance of many things - Design of course, Communication, Individual, Personality and Quality'
The above was projected in front of us, but more importantly Sir Paul Smith embodied these characteristics as his personality made the audience feel equally excited by his enthusiasm which communicated the importance of being individual and designing quality pieces. Our own experience reinforces this opinion, communication is key in the fashion industry and Sir Paul Smith emphasised the importance of  the fact "Marketing's just a posh word for knowing what's going on".

Old-fashioned samples bought from auctions in France and Italy.
Sir Paul Smith has created an iconic image through his vibrant and eclectic range of stripes. Due to sheer size of Paul Smith, the company is able to weave fabrics exclusively for a collection despite the closing down of many mills. Many stores and fashion houses now use computer generated stripes, however Paul Smith has garments woven by thick silk thread to create this gorgeous "richness".

"You can find inspiration in everything if you're looking properly"
Takes colours from world images and interior design magazines to make into a stripe.
 Sir Paul Smith made it explicitly clear how important colour is in design, which comes across in his work. The colour dramatically changes the look of the garment as Navy and White convey a serious, french classic style whilst Red and Pink embody Andy Warhol and pop art culture. However Sir Paul Smith told us that the interesting and dramatic colours get his garments on the cover of magazines, whereas in fact the style of the suit is available in practical classic colour such as black, which will sell significantly more than the eccentric oranges, vibrant pinks and bright reds.

Rucksack printed onto the back of a shirt from a Paul Smith 80s collection
 The quirky shirt above was inspired by Sir Paul Smith photographing a building which he found later on printed on the side of a minibus, which for the 80s was a relatively new idea. He was excited by the concept of putting images on other things which weren't meant to be together. This individual "make room to break the rules" attitude has stirred the Paul Smith campaigns from being "too posed, too darling" as Sir Paul Smith refers to street casting to reflect that individual personality.

Alexey Brodowitch directed of Harpers Bazaar in the 1950s, pleased advertises by ensuring the commercially lead content, but for a significant part in the magazine used young illustrator Andy Warhol to make a more interesting layout

Despite shops closing due to the recession, Paul Smith signifies the importance of being individual to ensure survival as in today's society there's "too much choice" and essentially everyone on the high street are selling the same thing. The designer compares a series of images from houses to tomatoes strengthening how effort is significant to all of these, as tomatoes look even more tasty lying next to stalks on tissue paper, which he compares to selling white shirts.

By noticing customers stop when 8 puppies are in the window rather than stiff mannequins that every high street store has, Sir Paul Smith has ensured that everyone of his stores and window displays in the total of 72 countries is utterly unique. Being quite disheartened when he managed to transfer the inside of a chateaux to one of his stores and despite being an expensive venture, "everyone thinks it's fake!".

His involvement with fashion doesn't stop in retail, he photographs styles and people beyond clothes, takes his hand at interviewing and costume designs for movies such as 'Let's get cost'. By keeping the press and the public interested he becomes more than just a fashion house designer, he becomes some-one who is wholeheartedly involved with art.

Sir Paul Smith kept repeating "Don't worry I'm nearly finished", although I'm sure most of the audience wanted him to carry on due to his fascinating character and energy. A few questions were asked to Sir Paul Smith where the questioners could choose from a range of Paul Smith scarves. What we can devise from the answers, Sir Paul Smith has no idea how to narrow down inspiration which is why he designs 26 collections a year, he has his heart and wallet into his profession as the British designs become British because that's who he is and he's never had a "Eureka" moment (apart from now he jokes) because Paul Smith will never be number 1 because it focuses on a solid down-to-earth classic designs.
After the lecture Sir Paul Smith invited the listeners to feast on mince pies and wine at his flagship store in Nottingham, Willoughby House.

What I feel I enjoyed most about the lecture is Sir Paul Smith's refreshing attitude to making not only clothes but his shops, his personality and his work ethnic completely unique. As a member of the audience rightly said, "If Sir Paul Smith redesigned the high street, it would be a lot more interesting and exciting than it is today."

for more interesting views on the fashion industry see The Azuni Insight

1 comment:

  1. great blog article girls. great to get it up so quickly as well! :)