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Who is Paul Smith and how the underrated British fashion label stays forever shaped by its namesake

P.S. ILY

Text: Ryan Sng


Image: Instagram

Some fashion houses bear the imprint of their founder's personalities more than others, and maintain that core identity through thick and through thin. They aren't interested in chasing trends. While this occasionally sees them fall out of fashion, somehow they always bounce back better than ever.

Paul Smith is one such example. With the brand's 50th anniversary approaching, many of the qualities that initially captured the fashion world's imagination remain intact. That's largely due to the consistency of Smith himself, who still sits at the heart of the company. We take a closer look at how he made an indelible mark on the house that he built below.

He keeps things simple.

Smith's working-class childhood and hardscrabble early career (he left school at 15 to work in a clothing warehouse) meant that he was unlikely to develop a fondness for fussy, overwrought designs. His use of quirky patterns and bright colours to enliven staples was a design choice firmly rooted in practicality, which has now become a distinct signature.

 

He plays by his own rules.

One of Smith's proudest achievements on record is his company's sustained independence, and the resultant freedom to do as he pleases. And it isn't just the flippancy of somebody who's too big to fail talking. When a young Smith ran a multilabel clothing store (his first enterprise) before focusing on his own brand, his boutique was only open two days a week; conventional business wisdom and image be damned, he knew that he needed to work other sustenance gigs to keep himself afloat.

 

He cultivates a sense of wonder.

Whether it's the miscellaneous objects he's been mailed by an anonymous fan over the decades (which were exhibited in his retrospective), or the colour variations in a bowl of garden-picked cherry tomatoes, Smith's Instagram feed reveals a septuagenarian eye that still finds delight everywhere.

 

He's unwavering.

As a consummate lover of classic tailoring, Smith has bucked against the current predominance of streetwear even during a tricky turnaround period for his brand. Where most designers fear being labeled as boring, he takes a different tack, telling Coach Magazine: "I’ve got clients who have been with me for 25 years. There’s a safety in their minds. 'I’ll find something at Paul’s shop.' You know, you don’t have to worry about it."

Smith's also been married to his wife for over five decades; a smart man knows a keeper when he sees one...

Paul Smith's new boutique is now open at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

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