Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith is an exhibition that communicates the story of how a small, quintessentially English label became one of the world’s leading fashion brands. Drawn from Paul Smith’s personal archive the display will inhabit the first floor of the Design Museum, London, from 15 November 2013 to 9 March 2014.
Curated by Donna Loveday, the exhibition explores how Smith’s intuitive take on design, approach to originality and understanding of the importance of retail and branding has ensured the company’s lasting success. In particular, there’s an emphasis on sources of inspiration, and how Smith captures his creativity. Unlike the Design Museum’s last Paul Smith exhibition in 1996 (Paul Smith: True Brit), Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith is not a retrospective of the designer’s past collections. The latest exhibition focuses less on material culture, and the designer’s skill as a tailor is underplayed. Instead this presentation is a collation of Paul Smith’s influence in design, which extends beyond the confines of clothing design.
Before entering the exhibition the tone is set in the museum’s foyer. The conspicuous, bright pink exhibition merchandise includes vibrant floral posters, branded accessories and slogan badges. These convey Paul Smith’s love of colour and patterns but also portray the designer’s eccentric character, friendly personality and sense of humour, which are integral to the brands global success. The coinciding exhibition book, “Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith: Fashion and Other Stories” is a visually rich publication that displays archival photographs and hand-drawn designs tied together through essays about Paul Smith’s projects and creative process.
Upon entering the exhibition Paul Smith is introduced through a short biography. The story is told of a seventeen year old British boy who fell off his bicycle fifty years ago, gave up his dream of becoming a professional racing cyclist, and started a business in his home county of Nottingham, England. Paul Smith’s first shop in Byard Lane opened in 1970. The tiny three-metre-square store is recreated for the exhibition, and begins the exploration of Paul Smith as both an inimitable designer and a successful businessman. Wall mounted text informs that the original store was only open two days a week because Smith would have to work other jobs to earn money. He’s wisely quoted as saying, ‘It is important to have a dream but also to be able to support that dream’.
After exiting the reconstructed shop the framed text informs the visitor that they have been transported to “Inside Paul’s Head”. The audio visual experience is slightly disorientating. The mirrored room reflects television screens projecting snippets of bright images, from fabrics to flowers. Paul Smith narrates a stream-of-consciousness about his myriad of influences, particularly his love of travel, which highlights the absorbent, enthusiastic nature of his personality.
The exhibition continues by exploring what inspires Smith’s design process. The impressive vestibule, which showcases his influences, is covered from floor to ceiling with an array of photographs, prints and paintings. The imagery is part of Smith’s personal archive, which he started collecting when he was a teenager. The wall text explains that these images are a very small part of Smith’s vast collection, which covers the walls of his Covent Garden office. His love of photography was inspired by his father, a keen amateur photographer himself. Smith claims to always carry a camera with him, and shot many of his own promotional images.
Located beside “Inside Paul’s Head” is a recreation of Smith’s infamously chaotic Covent Garden office. A kitsch collection of oddities and interests collected from around the world and gifted by admirers, the room is a colourful explosion of interesting artefacts. Every surface is strewn with books, ornaments, toys, tins and records; the cluttered office desk has famously never been sat at. This recreation of Smith’s personal working space is an insightful representation of the designer’s chaotic mind. The office is used in the exhibition to highlight how integral the designer’s eccentricity is to the personality of the eponymous brand.
Similarly, other important spaces have been recreated for the show. In addition to the first shop and Smith’s office there’s also a full-scale paper recreation of the Parisian hotel room where Paul Smith showed his first collection in 1976. Here, he states, is where he had his first buyer, and where it all began. Smith’s Covent Garden design studio has also been staged to represent a shift in the direction of the exhibition, from inspiration to production. Unlike the low lit office space the design studio is brighter, but no less cluttered. On display are fabric swatches, prints, buttons, mood boards, and stacks of art, culture and fashion magazines. The atmosphere is brought together by paper patterns that are hanging from the ceiling, and a radio, almost hidden under paperwork and dressmaking paraphernalia, playing Rolling Stones and Thin Lizzy.
The section dedicated to collaborative work is testament to Paul Smith’s skill as a creative and lucrative brand maker. From Mini Cooper, to HP Sauce, Evian bottled water, cameras, china, and snowboards, the brands distinctive multi-coloured stripes have been combined with an array of popular products. This area highlights the respect the Paul Smith brand name and identity commands outside of fashion.
Unusually, clothing plays a very small part within the context of the exhibition. This is effective in shifting the emphasis of the show away from the final product and onto the stages of creation. In the penultimate room a conservative number of Paul Smith’s designs are presented in a hall of fame gallery. The mixture of both men and women’s clothing are grouped into the categorised themes of Colour, Print, Travel and British Tradition. The scarcity of clothing displayed emphasises the exhibition’s exploration into the elements of inspiration, and how originality and a clear vision creates the essence of a brand identity.
The final section draws together all of the separate elements presented throughout the exhibition. The dedicated screening room shows footage of preparation, rehearsals and the final showcase of Paul Smith’s spring/summer 2014 menswear collection. Shot in Sony’s latest 4k technology the footage evokes almost a tactile response as textiles and colours are presented in astonishing clarity.
The exhibition takes the visitor on a journey through Paul Smith’s extraordinary world. His success from humble beginnings is all the more astonishing considering he didn’t receive any formal design training. Instead the acquisition of inspiration, his entrepreneurial spirit and his understanding of the importance of collaboration has been the result of his success. Curating every aspect of Smith’s work could have potentially been an overwhelming exhibition. However Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith successfully transitions from capturing inspiration, to the design process and the final product. The show is a celebration of the creative process within the confines of a business environment.