Paul Smith takes us on a tour of his recreated HQ at London’s Design Museum
Here at Wallpaper* we live by the tagline ‘The stuff that refines you’, and taking one look around Sir Paul Smith’s new exhibition at London’s Design Museum, you get the sense that the designer is similarly inspired. The creative clutter that makes up Smith’s everyday existence has been decamped into the showcase ’Hello, My Name is Paul Smith’.
Just don’t call it a retrospective. ’It’s absolutely not a retrospective,’ he insists, heading a tour around the exhibit, his renowned wit and curiousity leading the way, and adding with a smile ’the show comes from the heart, not from the wallet’. The installation instead celebrates the stuff of his life’s work, much of which has fuelled his design process and vice versa, rather than a plotted timeline of collections and career successes.
And while many designers crave a clean, sterilised space in order to sustain their creativity, Smith is legendarily quite the opposite. A trait that his fans have well and truly caught onto, to the extend that his former Kean street London office is famously bursting at the seams with curios to the point where it’s almost a personal museum. ’The post is fantastic!’ Smith continues, ’I just had five huge cartons of spinning tops delivered from Italy, which just said: "I know Paul Smith likes things".’ Of course, as an accomplished collector he also has an impressive portfolio of art and retail conquests, but it’s the little things (toy robots, buttons, Rolleiflex cameras) that fuel his creativity, and they’re almost all decamped here, including 70,000 buttons.
But for Smith, the exhibition’s purpose was simply ’to show that from a small beginning you can progress well’. So to reinforce his point, he has chosen to open the exhibition with a recreation of his first Nottingham, England store – a 3x3m box that he originally manned with his store manager Homer (an Afghan hound). ’We looked the same,’ he laughs.
Another key theme of the exhibition and indeed Smith’s life is the concept of balance – a principle he says he practised from his company’s infancy. The designer is quick to highlight that this first store was open Friday and Saturday only, while he worked freelance for the rest of the week to pay his bills. ’It is important to have a dream,’ he says, ’but also to be able to support that dream.’
Other components of the installation include a recreation of his current Covent Garden office (which even he admits you can barely find a useable surface in), and a comprehensive art wall hung with Banksy and Andy Warhol originals, as well as posters and children’s drawings that he’s been sent in the mail, replicating the hallways of his London HQ.
His ’office’, which he says resembles the workings of his brain, is a living treasure trove of bric-a-brac from his travels, the accumulative result resembling a world-class Portobello market stall from the rabbit shaped door mat to a skateboard stool, as well as many a Leica camera (Smith first picked up at camera in his early teens and shoots all of his ad campaigns).
Similarly nostalgic, he has also immortalised the Paris hotel room where he sold his first collection in 1976 (again inferring that you don’t need to start all ’fancy like’), as well as a recreation of his current design rooms – a place where ink pots are just as useful as iMacs. Next up, a collaborations room hosting his striped Mini car, Stelton coffee pots and rebranded HP Sauce. Smith also sweetly acknowledges the influence of his wife, who studied at London’s Royal College of Art and whom he says is ’totally responsible for my success’.
Then it’s onto his other big love: store design. This room offers a cross section of Smith’s international boutiques, all designed to be entirely individual – from Melrose’s pink box to Kyoto’s rock garden. To keep up with the demand, he now employs twelve interior designers and three architects in-house, with an empire building strategy that is the antithesis of the homogenised mega stores cloned by other luxury goods conglomerates.
Keeping things intimate, a behind the scenes film of his S/S 2014 men’s show finishes the offering, shot using two Sony 4K cameras at 60 frames per second, and projected on Sony 4K TVs that have four times the detail of Full HD, which gives the feeling that you are looking through a side window, rather than a TV screen. The highlight of the film is Sir Paul arriving and leaving on his bicycle, which perfectly segways into his final words: a Post-it note simply saying: ’Everyday is a new beginning’. For Smith, life is about identifying the positive, his parting words for those wanting to join his creative class? ’Be patient, keep your feet on the ground, and enjoy life.’ A message also close to our heart.