Paul Smith: a showcase of total design

By | Art & Design
Paul Smith shop, Melrose Avenue, LA painting by John Tierney (

Famous British fashion designer Paul Smith has recently been travelling in Asia where he visited his shops in Hong Kong and Japan  promoting his new book “Hello my name is Paul Smith: Fashion and other stories”( edited by Alan Aboud and published by Rizzoli). With the same title is about to open the doors to the public the monographic exhibition at the Design Museum in London which celebrates the 40 years career of the fashion designer.

The show, which will be on stage from 15th of November 2013 to the 9th of March 2014, explores the career path of the British fashion designer from early days to future developments. Curated by Donna Loveday, the exhibition focuses on the character of Paul Smith more than on the design of his collections.

In fact, Paul Smith’s work had a too large impact on global culture to be only defined by his brand and is too eclectic to belong to a specific category of products. It’s even reductive to define him as just a designer and we should rather consider him a taste-maker. Particularly, his various collaborations and interests branch out from cycling to product design and from architecture and interior design to photography and art. It seems the case to talk about total design rather than just design of clothes. An attitude that counts many references in modern design from the British tradition of Arts and Crafts movement to the experiences of the 50’s with designers like Charles and Ray Eames.

This attitude is well presented in the exhibition which showcases a series of objects and “environments” aimed at depicting the character of the designer; some of the items are designed and some picked by Smith. There are even some posted to him by his fans (for the last 20 years a mystery admirer sent him random objects, like a single sky and a broom). Two of the interesting spaces or “environments” of the exhibition are the reconstruction of the designer’s first shop in Nottingham from 1970 and one part of his current office in Covent Garden.

Exhibition, Picture by Antony Crolla

Certainly the office seems to be one of the most interesting spaces that represent such eclectic personality and looking at Paul portrayed in this office by the photographer David Baird, the analogy with the pictures of the Eames couple in their famous House in Los Angeles is easy to make. The same kind of playful richness of the interior filled of colorful items is in both cases the result and representation of the characters that inhabit the space. The space and objects (and even the exhibition itself, the second dedicated by the Design Museum to the fashion designer in the last 12 years) construct the character of Paul Smith and vice-versa.

Exhibition, Paul's Office. Picture by Antony Crolla

Exhibition, Paul’s Office. Picture by Antony Crolla

According to the total design attitude the exhibition also emphasizes the importance of the design of the brand’s shops; 350 different ones in 74 countries, and a section is also dedicated to Smith’s wife, an Interior Designer who has often collaborated with him. The shops have become real icons like the pink cube in Melrose Ave, Los Angeles (as we can see from the paintings by John Tierney shown above and below) and they often host exhibitions of artists worldwide.

Another important aspect that makes Smith’s work remarkable and that the exhibition highlights is the productive collaboration of the designer with other companies, artists and events from 1976. Mostly known are the ones with Leica Camera, Giro D’Italia and David Bowie. More than just branding with his name items and events, Smith re-invents and incorporates in his total design approach the products of different companies giving more than a new look to them.

In Paul Smith’s world and in the show upcoming at the Design Museum the conception of design is understood in a wider sense, from process to product, from object to environment, from design to curatorship.


If we think about this exhibition as a broader cultural phenomenon than just celebrating a character, how would we describe it?


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