16 May 2011

Paul Smith: British Designer Admired by This American

Most Successful British Designer Wouldn't Get Recognized in America 
Sir Paul Smith, Westbourne House
When I was a young pup in college, I dated a rather comely, totally in-the-know (a little too in the know in some respects if you catch my drift) young woman.  She and I were fast becoming "of the" and finding our way "in the" world; you know, deciding what things we were going to reject from our betters, and appreciating what we thought was important, and even learning what we liked doing with our free-time.  

Part of this transmogrification included the personal fashion styles we aspired to, which ultimately meant we were growing apart faster than a NASA shuttle being launched from Cape Canaveral leaves behind its temporary mooring.  She the fiery and fleeing temptress, I the temporary stabling force.  For awhile there, right near the end of our six or seven years together, she grew into a club kid looking for the next party wearing her outfits with leg warmers and gold belts and brightly colored skirts and pants, and I remained the boring (mooring) boyfriend, digging my trad style, even rocking several bow ties at various weddings and proper events. 

I can remember one night where she was so embarrassed by my sartorial display at her company dinner, that she actually asked me to (the horror) take off my bow tie because I looked like a waiter.  Classic line.  I actually laughed, but knew that we were done.  Within six months, we were broken up.  I then, the dutiful dumpee, dropped out of undergrad for almost a year, and then dropped about three grand adding some new additions to my wardrobe which would include Willie Smith (Willie Wear), Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, "creepers" and Doc Martins, Armani, and even some Tommy Hilfiger.  I grew my hair long, and then found myself back in school, living with three girlfriends from high school, and trying to figure things out anew and by myself, the way it should be.

But, this lovely ex-girlfriend did add two things of lasting genius and import to my life down in Malibu one fine afternoon.  It was my 20th birthday, and she gave me a brand new book by Michael Chabon (who, some of you may recall, would become my favorite author ever, and whom I just happened to run into, almost literally, at SFO airport this past Thursday afternoon as I was running to gate 90) his master's thesis-cum-future novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  This petite beauty also gave me a skillfully tailored, blue-striped Paul Smith collared shirt. Never had I owned any shirt like it before.  I felt like an adult wearing it.  An adult with fine taste.

We sat there enjoying a nice lunch in the shade, and I was a bit amped because I had just met Ben Stein for the second time (he was teaching at Pepperdine), whose writing and voice I'd always admired, and I was with my gal, and we were happy and had nothing but the future in front of us.  Well, at least a few more months.  By the bye, I still have to share with you, Dear Reader, how Mr. Stein encouraged me to go to law school.  But, that's for another post.  

So, Paul Smith and his style and influence and expensive clothing.  I wore that shirt of his out.  I mean I even had the cuffs replaced because I didn't want to part with that shirt.  I bought others, but that one was special.  Within the last couple of years Paul Smith (GQ’s multi-winning designer-of-the-year) has opened shops in Los Angeles and San Francisco, hoping to finally crack that American market.  Each of these buildings reflects an architectural through-line back to Paul Smith himself: colorful, drawing influences from sport, history, art, pop-culture or modern architecture.  Paul Smith the brand continues to open stand-alone shops throughout the world, including this past month with a new 3-story flagship in Seoul, South Korea, featuring Paul Smith’s personal art collection on its walls.

British designer Paul Smith is not a household name in America; not yet I don't think.  I mean you probably know him.  I know him.  But, whereas the average Joe or Jill American can recognize Armani or Tommy or Calvin ... Paul?  Not so much.  And that bothers me.  

Where the French have always had a reputation for women’s fashion, it is the Brits, well, London’s Savile Row specifically, that has the well-earned reputation for turning out men in bespoke suits, fitting the country’s elite and sophisticated and, yes,  the wealthy in clothes that definitely make the man.

But, truth be told, these companies churning out high-end men’s fashion haven’t been “British” in the strictest sense for decades; they can be, and are often, owned by multinational corporations headquartered in France, Italy or Japan.   The designers, and their sense of style, most assuredly rock a British idiom that push past typical Savile Row boundaries, leaving the shores of England as fast as any Virgin airlines jet can whisk them away. 

The globalization of British men’s and women’s fashion is certainly alive and well from Asia through to America, with the likes of British (and award-winning) designers like Christopher Bailey (Burberry), John Galliano (Dior), and recently departed Alexander McQueen influencing the way men and woman are dressing.

Bringing us back to the iconic British designer Paul Smith, who is arguably the most successful designer in British history.   Knighted by the Queen in 2000, Paul Smith’s fashion strengths have always played to a man’s sensibility: well-made clothing with just a touch of unique style as seen in his signature multicolored stripes.   Sir Paul’s fashion house, still independently owned, supposedly has revenues now past $600 million from 48 different countries, including 12 different men’s and women’s lines, licensing and limited edition deals with Evian water, cameras, Cross pens, Barneys New York, luggage, furniture, skis,  and the list and revenues go on (and on).

In his book Paul Smith: you can find inspiration in everything (2003), author Sir Paul says that we should seek to be childlike, not childish; and that the key to staying inspired is to see and to think about the world horizontally, where we can find inspiration from all of the things around us (not other designers).  As Paul Smith expansion continues around the globe, his personal inspiration is sure to follow.  Now, if I just had that blue stripped shirt back.


James said...

A great mix of memories and style wisdom. A delightful post, thank you.

Barbara said...

My son introduced me to Paul Smith. You are so right; quiet elegance, beautiful fabrics and comfort all rolled into one line.
Isn't it lovely what we learn from our ex's? :)

In New York Paris Tomorrow said...

Well yes, you nailed the British fashion heroes. Sir Paul has a happier hand and well founded on fine, Love your posts.

Betty Ming Liu said...

so do clothes make the man? interesting to read about the role clothes played in both your relationships and self-development. personal style and clothes do matter. i also like reading about this from a guy's point of view!

Caleb S. Garcia said...

Johnny my boy, this is one of the most fantastic, sentimental, and enduring pieces you have written. Your honest reflection combined with your wit and talent make the read truly enjoyable.

I like that it still took you six months to break up with the gal even though you knew it was over after the bow tie incident.

Also I think you mean "come-future" lol.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Caleb --

always appreciate your kind remarks (and pithy ones too). fyi ...

cum 1 (km, km)
Together with; plus. Often used in combination: our attic-cum-studio.

Julia Christie said...

Ok I have to come back and read this post it looks amazing!

No no 'Pro' hacker - Just wanted to share my new venture with my Serendipity folks!

I do promise to leave these two entities completely separate in the future, so you will be seeing only art-based posts at Serendipity!

I've sure missed your witty posts and will look forward to reading this one later today!


Julia Christie said...

Thanks for the tip Jg!
Coming from a successful businessman like you, i really appreciate that and I will add a link too!


btw - do you facebook?

Julia Christie said...

Sitting with my three youngest sons at the dentist and living this read!!!!
Oh Jg! Now I have to go online and check out his clothes...I know it was the sentimental value of that shirt, but I am hoping there is a beauty in your near future that takes you by the proverbial Tie and leads you into that new shop to gift you a new special shirt!!!

Great read!

christian soldier said...

(-:-loved the young love story---
Thank you for the introduction to Paul Smith-
Based on the art works behind him-and your overview-I like him already-
Great clothes designers are artists in their own right...

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Oh you should of kept that shirt for old times sake; if only a small square. What a great story Jg. You have me very intrigued over the Ben Stein story (I'm a fan) and law school. Looking forward to knowing that slice of your history. Your relationship with this incredible young woman sounded just as relationships should be when we are young,transforming and learning. I admire Paul Smith's designs & have only been able to splurge on a pair of cufflinks. But I would not of known his face, you are right. How sad.

Jg, you've had (& still continue to) a remarkable life!

x Deb

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

My most favourite black boots that I have ever owned are Paul Smith. My husband used to love Paul Smith, but lately the stripes are overdone. I would hate for such a classic to succumb to the ostentatious, label loving types. (The types who love labels for the sake of the label and not the style)

Lovely post!