Image credit: James Mooney
Sir Paul Smith's energy and puckish sense of fun is apparent from the moment you meet him. He is the kind of Brit who takes every opportunity to joke around. When asked about his proudest achievement, he quips, “I’m still alive, which is bloody marvellous.” His fashion approach, though, reveals why he’s sold in 66 countries: “My philosophy is to make clothes for people to wear, and clothes that make people feel special.”
Smith talks inspiration and suiting for the David Jones Spring Summer 2016 edition of A Tailored Man.
Who is the man you design for?
We sell in 73 countries, so the requirements of somewhere like Australia or Japan or America could be different. Generally speaking, the Paul Smith customer is quite a creative guy but somebody who isn’t what I call an attention-seeking guy … He’s just an easygoing guy who’s interested in fashion, but not a fashion victim.
You work across so many labels, how do you stay inspired?
I'm blessed with – you might think this sounds a bit stupid – but I've got eyes that ‘see’. A lot of people look but they don't really see. I'm quite a curious person … Also my dad was an amateur photographer and so from there, from 11, I've been taking pictures. That also helps you observe things and think about composition and think about colour.
What does the ultimate men’s wardrobe look like to you?
You should just have a good navy blue suit – ideally one of mine and ideally one of the travel suits – a good white shirt, a nice quality pair of leather shoes that can last you 10 years or 15, an excellent pair of trainers or sneakers, lots of white T-shirts, good quality chino pants, and some shorts. It’s not rocket science – you don’t need a lot.
What’s your favourite type of tie?
First of all I very rarely wear a tie, but oddly enough I sell 600,000 a year so somebody must buy them! I like silk polka dots – they cross every barrier. You can wear them completely neat up to the neck, or you can just pull down the knot a bit and open the top button and wear it in a casual way. Right now a narrower tie is working in most countries, but the 8cm one – the slightly wider one works quite well as well.
What are the shoes every man should own?
That’s ever so subjective. In Australia I imagine a lot of the time you wear a sneaker or a trainer. I’ve got a really good pair of ‘plain caps’, they’re very simple, dark brown, I’ve had them for 20-something years. They’re just really good quality. And today I’ve got the trainers on. You know, you almost need two pairs of shoes really: one that’s more like a sneaker or trainer, and one that’s more of a dress up.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who isn't confident in their fashion choices?
The main thing is don’t try too hard. Don’t – through peer pressure or a new girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever – let them bully you into buying things you don't feel comfortable in. Take a breath, think ‘What’s my lifestyle? I work in an office, I'm sporty or I'm a creative guy,’ and then you’ll soon find out what’s sensible for you.
I mean I tend to wear a suit everyday. We do a suit called ‘A Suit To Travel In’ that doesn't crease which is really great, and I travel every week of my life. Today I've got it with a chambray shirt and some trainers. On other days I might wear it with a classic leather shoe and a classic shirt.
Your designs are known for their quirk; why is it important for you to have a sense of humour when it comes to dressing?
It’s important for me, it might not be important to you. When I first started I thought ‘Why should anyone buy my clothes? I'm the new guy starting, I hadn't had any formal training, I was doing daily, simple clothes…’ So I thought if I can add a little surprise in the clothes that might give a reason for people to buy them. Going back to the suit I've got on today, I've got a little polka dot lining.
Your proudest achievement?
I’m still alive, which is bloody marvellous. And continuity – the fact that I’ve been doing a pretty okay job for a long time and a lot of fashion designers, a lot of restaurants, a lot of musicians, a lot of magazines, they come and they have their 15 minutes of fame, like Andy Warhol said, they go like a rocket and sadly they’re no longer around. I think what I’m most proud of is that I’m still doing okay.
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