Monday, May 29, 2006

Paul Smith (Dec 2001)


Paul Smith, 55, is one of our most successful fashion designers, but his interests range far beyond clothing. In the Eighties he discovered, and promoted, the Filofax; in 1991 he was awarded the British Designer for Industry Award; and in 2000 he was knighted for services to fashion design. His independently owned clothing label has 14 shops in Britain and more than 240 in Japan. He lives in London with his wife Pauline.

The Paul Smith logo was actually penned by a lady who worked with you. Have you had to learn to forge your own signature as a result?

I suppose you could put it like that. It's true that it wasn't originally mine, but in fact I'm very comfortable using it. I use that signature because it's one that people want to see. If I sign a chequebook or a credit card it's with a faster version of it, a bit straighter and less rounded.

You wanted to be a professional cyclist until you had a terrible accident. Why did cycling appeal?

My father bought me a bike when I was 11, and it changed my life. I can't remember being younger than 11. Having a bike gave me independence. Then I got hooked on the racing - I enjoyed both the competitive and the discipline side of it. From the outside I may seem a bit mad, eclectic and haphazard in the way I work, but in fact I am really quite disciplined.

Do you need constant challenges to keep you motivated?

I'm so boring, really - I just love life. I don't even try - I just am enthusiastic about things. I got up this morning and saw the blue sky and thought, "Great, it's a nice day."

How do you cope with being treated like a pop star in Japan?

It gets quite out of hand. In Japan, I hasten to add, it's not just me - if you are a relatively well-known person in any field, people like to get your signature. I found it absolutely astounding the first time I got mobbed. I was looking around to see if it was somebody else they wanted. One time I had to climb over a wall to get away.

How would you define good taste?

It's nothing to do with money. Maybe style is easier to define than taste. It's to do with your posture, your conversation, wearing clothes in a way that suits. It's not to do with buying an expensive piece of clothing or a certain brand or eating in a particular restaurant. You can wear clothes from a thrift shop and only eat at home and still be stylish.

Where did the idea for your latest book come from?

I have never really wanted to do a book, because I still feel that I have masses to do yet. I haven't even started. Then Robert Violette, the publisher, approached me. He understood that I didn't want to do a regular book. He got to know my friends, like Jonathan Ive, who designed the iMac, and who created the polystyrene case the book comes in, and Richard Williams, the sports writer, who contributed a piece on my interest in cycling.

Who would you say is your ultimate comic book hero?

Roger the Dodger and Desperate Dan take a lot of beating.

How do you see the Filofax now?

When I discovered it, it was just an incredibly useful thing, which sold to about 27 people in the world. I repackaged it slightly so it fitted in with the modern way of being, and then it got bastardised and linked with the Yuppies, which was a shame. I haven't entered the world of Palm Pilots. I still like using notepads and pencils. By scribbling you often make mistakes, and mistakes can turn into winners.

What was your first reaction when you heard you were to be knighted?

Whether I should accept it. Although I was very flattered indeed, I don't like to think of people being knighted for just bettering their own situation. But when I started to think about it, I realised I had contributed a lot to my home town of Nottingham and to my country. Going to the Palace was fine, but not as exciting as some people might think.

What is your favourite item of clothing?

I've got some very old, plain brown shoes that I've had for years. They have been almost rebuilt but unless they completely fall to bits I wouldn't get rid of them. And then I've got favourite jeans and shirts that are quite worn out on the cuffs and the collar. But that doesn't matter, because I still love them.

What do you wish you had designed?

The paperclip, cats-eyes and Sellotape. They are pure genius. I just make clothes. It's not a great deal. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there, and so many people who don't deserve to be as important as they are in their own heads. I'm more impressed by the guys who picked up the Nobel prize - that's real achievement.

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