Text by – MARCO PIGHIZZINI
Illustration by – FRANCESCO BIANCHI
Translation by – JULIA PERRY
We open our column by talking about a great staple in fashion, whose history is paradoxical compared to the name of its protagonist: “Paul Smith” is a name that in the British language is so common place, monotonous, one of those names that you find in repetition in the white pages or in scripts with little to no imagination. It’s almost as if to dispel this stereotype that “Paul Smith”, born in Nottingham in 1946, became an unmistakable trademark of the British style that has taken the world by storm.
This is hardly the only oddity, mainly because the approach Paul Smith takes to fashion wasn’t always his approach. At 16, the son of a tailor, Paul worked against his will as a storekeeper in a fabric warehouse, who loved to bike ride and lived with the dream of pursuing a career as a cyclist, following in the footsteps of his hero Gino Bartali.
Paul loved cycling, so much that fate decided to violently throw him onto the tracks towards his destiny: at 17 years old, young Paul was involved in a car accident where we was forced to remain hospitalized for 7 months, and along with his stay had to abandon all hope of fulfilling his sporting dream.
In his hospital bed, as a young man he met multiple cultured and studious design students that, even after convalescence, continued to frequent in pubs near the Royal College of Art in London. In the same group of friends he met Pauline Denyer: a graduate of fashion design that, along with becoming his wife, sent him onto the path for fashion with “cultured” conversations and basic practical lessons. The exact confirmation that behind every great man there is a great woman.
It is during one of these occasions that he abandons cycling, and after a period of practice in Savile Row, the light bulb turns on: “I could open a tailor and possible become a successful fashion designer.”
Paul Smith rediscovered his father’s trade, now as a man looking at an art he is passionate about: it’s possible to spot influences by Warhol, for a style that breaks the mold of its time, blending seamlessly with characteristics of 1960s dandyism.
So there it was, his first store opened in Nottingham in 1970, landing male fashion shows in Paris in 1976 as well as opening a door to global success: the gentlemanly-dandy-kitsch casual style introduced softer and less structured shapes, striped patterns and the concept of “style” that extended to include nearly anything. Whether it be a man’s jacket, a Mini Cooper, a bicycle, a bag or a water bottles, it became clear when something had passed under Paul Smith’s “elegantly extravagant” hand.
Since 2000, Paul has even been knighted at the behest of Queen Elizabeth but, as proof that it’s impossible to forget one’s first love, the designer is now ubiquitous in the Tour of Italy. Sometimes he is even present as the designer of the meshes worn by the winners, as in 2013, and other times as a “patron” of individual awards for minor young cyclists as well as present solely out of curiosity.
So why tell this story? To prove that almost always, from the most unpleasant situations arise the best foundations for something great. As Faber sang: “Nothing was born from diamonds, flowers were born from manure.”