Alexa Chung interviews Sir Paul Smith at The Vogue Festival 2013


Alexa Chung wore dress by Paul Smith
“Sir Paul Smith is simply the country’s most successful fashion brand.” – Alexandra Shulman. The man who got knighted and married on the same day now runs 12 collections, has 200 shops worldwide, business of turnover of 300mn and never reads reviews. He left school at 14 wanting to be a professional racing cyclist but after an accident changed his plans. Shulman describes “His individual take on fashion and most importantly with retail” as the reason he’s made his mark on the industry. Interviewed by Alexa Chung, a beautiful contributing editor for vogue, is said to have proved her shrewd interviewing skills and thus was appointed as the perfect bubbly personality for Sir Paul’s eccentricity to bounce off.

Sir Paul walks on waving to Alexa’s “Daddy” who sat on the front row. Pixie Geldof was there too to support her friend. With his somewhat gruff faded Nottingham accent Sir Paul began by addressing us personally.  His initial point was what I noticed as a reoccurring theme from all the lecturers over the weekend. You must have a unique point of view, “we don’t need any more fashion designers” so you must think laterally and with a unique point of view you will bring something different to the table and people will notice you.  Whether you actually want to be a designer or not be aware of the need to offer something different and ‘unique’ to stand out and succeed. It is a piece of advice we should apply to every aspect of our careers whatever they may be.



From Matisse and Mark Rothco, art, architecture, people, travel, get the balance right between laptops, iPhones and the internet and actually observing life on the streets, “Remember those things called books!” –Paul Smith.
Don’t just look, but see.
Inspiration is all around us. Travelling is a particularly relevant source of inspiration for Sir Paul. He showed the very photographs of scenes he saw around the world and the exact pieces from his collection that he created using colours from those images. “Colour is a great thing for somebody like Paul Smith that does quite simple things, quite classical things. Colour is one way of getting a lease of life to an otherwise fairly simple collection” – Sir Paul Smith.




Sir Paul’s take on the process for a designer today: You have a catwalk “in about 14 minutes and half a million quid you’ve got to show the press that you’ve got new things, things to fill the pages of the magazines, things for musicians and also show the buyers that they’re going to be able to pay their rent.” And that’s just it. Sir Paul Smith iterates the importance of more than just design in today’s competitive market. Individuality has never been more important and communication is key after all Paul Smith is a business. Every single Paul Smith shop around the world is different to entice you to go in everyone. For many designers the fashion shows are the pinnacle of the cycle, but for Sir Paul it’s just part of it that he has to do to success.


One gets the feeling that being a fashion designer fell into Paul’s lap, he just so happened to be capable of masterpieces. Meeting design students in a pub one day is what inspired him. His wife has been classically trained in couture standard of design which gave the foundations of what then ended up as this quintessentially British unstoppable design house.


Sir Paul Smith swims every morning at 6am, avoids technology as much as possible, profusely loves his wife and works in a busy, interactive and what sounds like a fun workplace. He certainly doesn’t take fashion too seriously, but he achieves quality and individualism with every piece that goes into production. He is aware of the number of workers his brand employs and the responsibility that comes with that. “They’ve all got families. They’ve all got to put food on the table. I can’t afford to [not have a successful collection]”.


Alexa Chung there to interview Smith was charming, witty and comfortable to watch. Her questions allowed Smith to paint a broad and personal picture of his life in its entirety but keeping his business today being at the forefront of the discussion.


On the topic of the difference between designing from men and women, women are more difficult because they have sticky out bits “which is very hard” he jests. However the fickleness of the female fashion industry is tricky to navigate for Paul Smith, a very distinctive brand. Chung insightfully asked is there a risk of his look being in one season and not the next. They agreed yes that is a risk because Paul Smith has such a distinctive look. Nevertheless with excellence and appreciating style rather than focusing on fashion he doesn’t seem to do too badly.


1st, 4th and 6th images are courtesy of Vogue.com, the rest are HanJanRan's own and should be credited if used.

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