From an errand boy who wanted to become a racing cyclist to a multi-millionaire who has earned his stripes in the fashion industry, Paul Smith is a man whose rise to success, fame and fortune is an admirable tale.
At the age of 16, Paul Smith, who had left school with no qualifications, found work at a clothing warehouse owned by a friend of his dad. Despite thinking he had little to no passion in fashion he soon began to find an interest. However, while the warehouse was his job, cycling was his passion until an injury at 18 made him turn to the sartorial world full time.
Encouraged by his girlfriend Pauline Denyer (now wife) he opened a tiny shop in 1970 and took evening classes for tailoring. Fast forward to 1976 and Paul showcased his first menswear collection in Paris under the Paul Smith label. The rest they say is history with Paul not only considered one of the most innovating designers in men’s, and women’s, fashion but he has also turned his hand to many collaborations, including, most recently, interior design.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Danish furniture designer Hans J. Wegner’s birth, Paul joined forces with Carl Hansen & Søn and Maharam to launch a limited edition furniture collection – Paul reimagined some of Wegner’s most iconic works, including his Shell Chair and Wing Chair. As well as furniture, the 68-year-old designer, who admits he still loves to read Beano, is ever the cycling enthusiast lending his designer skills to create some uber-stylish bike accessories… Essentially he is still just as hardworking now as he was as that enthusiastic errand boy, here are some life lessons he has learnt on his journey to success….
You don’t have to have an enormous level of design skill. I realised that at the beginning of my career. I had no formal training. Consequently I relied on simplicity, surprise and the use of colour as my tools for success.
The stripe is something that came completely by chance. I created lots of stripes for men’s shirts and then one time I created one that was very highly coloured, which became very popular. Then without realising it, it became very heavily associated with Paul Smith for a while. We’re easing out the use of it now but still using colour and surprise in a different way.
My wife, Pauline, is my style icon. We’ve been together since I was 21. She dresses in a very simple way but has an ability to combine textures and colours in a way which is very creative.
Style is not something you can buy. It’s very much about an attitude. The simplicity of something that we all wear a lot of; a white shirt or a navy blue suit, for example.
I never have favourites, it always depends on all different things. I have stores across the globe but couldn’t tell you what city I prefer.
My greatest success is my communication skills. I’m capable as both a designer and a business man, but my skills in communicating with people all over the world has really helped me a lot.
Balancing business and design is my biggest hurdle. Paul Smith is fairly unique as it’s privately owned and very international, selling in over 73 countries. So disciplining myself to spend time between the business and continuing my design work is something I’m proud of.
Fashion is about today and tomorrow and that nobody cares how good you used to be. As such, you have to constantly be thinking about the future and never resting on your laurels.
Never assume. Always check things as often there’s an unknown just around the corner.
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Main image: Getty