"I said something really stupid the other day," Paul Smith says as we sit in his London office. "When asked about it, I told someone that I'm not really a collector. But I have large quantities of the same thing. And I realize that is actually a collector," he says laughing, making the understatement of the year.
He's standing over an intimidating pile of autographed cycling jerseys given to him by world famous champions (Smith is a longtime racing fan). That pile sits next to leaning towers of art and fashion books, numbering in the hundreds, which are in turn surrounded by walls of bookshelves filled with everything from biographies and novels to toys, cameras, soccer balls and works of photography. Limited edition bicycles and rare works of art ("this is nothing, I've got Banksys, Bruce Webers and Giacomettis in the basement downstairs") round it all out.
In short, Smith is a man who likes to be surrounded by a lot of different things. He's got a nutty professorial quality to him -- only cooler, like the badass teacher from sophomore year at college whose classes have long wait lists. For example, he created stamps for the Olympics ("it's a geeky world") that have since been collected by the queen of England, the Tate museum and David Cameron. Hardly geeky.
"I think you can tell from this office that my head is full of curiosity," he says. "In the same way, all aspects of my collections are different and fun. Paul Smith is like a cocktail of many ingredients that are very intriguing to people," he adds, once again playing things down a bit. His brand is actually more like a jumbo smoothie -- his building houses a total of 180 employees who design 26 collections a year across his 14 lines. Those numbers would make the average person's eyes glaze over. During our time together, Smith greets every person he comes across by name, with a personal anecdote to boot. He seems to operate best as a multitasker. "It's great for business because there's something for everybody," he says.
Smith on ...
The suit: "I think of the wardrobe as a picture frame. So a suit or a coat can be like a picture frame. You need these staples. And the rest is about what you sprinkle in it, the picture you put inside it."
His work process: "I used to design everything myself. Now my job is like a stylist, like starting a collection off by saying I feel like this is the mood. I want this collection to have more color or be more bohemian. And then I work with them all on the fabric
selection and colors."
London fashion: "It would be so much more sensible for me to show in Paris [Fashion Week] where there are more buyers and press. But I stay in London out of loyalty. It's important for brands like myself and Burberry to be in London so that we can bring the buyers and the press and in turn help the younger designers like Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane."