A Brief History of Paul Smith: Covent Garden’s Most Famous Designer

Items from Paul Smith's spring/summer 2010 collection adorn a tabletop
Items from Paul Smith's spring/summer 2010 collection adorn a tabletop | © Jonathan Player/REX/Shutterstock
Photo of Sarah Leigh Bannerman
Fashion Editor25 June 2019

Paul Smith launched his Nottingham-based menswear label in 1976 and carved a name for himself as a tailoring specialist with an eye for quirky detail. Here is all you need to know about the designer, his history and how his work has stayed relevant in a world of changing trends.

Sir Paul Smith stands in his office in Covent Garden, London | © Martyn Goddard/REX/Shutterstock

When Paul Smith opened his first boutique, Paul Smith Vêtement Pour Homme, in Nottingham in 1970, it was the only menswear destination outside of London to house contemporary fashion labels like Kenzo and Margaret Howell. Thriving off the success of his store and its unique position in the market, he added his own tailoring designs into the product mix. In 1976, he showed his first official collection at Men’s Fashion Week in Paris and established himself as a globally recognised designer.

His suiting is modern in silhouette, impeccably cut and often detailed with a splash of colour or his signature rainbow-stripe logo. Easy to wear with a charismatic edge, it appeals to the fashion-savvy consumer and stands out against more classic designs.

Paul Smith Shop signs line Floral Street in Covent Garden, London | © Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The stripe has become something of a trademark, and it features in a number of his 300+ stores worldwide as well as on the clothing. When Smith opened his second store on Floral Street, Covent Garden in 1979, the multicoloured design ran the length of the floor and up the walls. Today, LA’s Melrose Avenue location boasts a block-colour millennial-pink exterior wall that has become one of fashion’s most instagrammed places since it opened in 2005 – before social media was even a consideration.

Smith specialised in menswear until 1993 when he added women’s collections to his repertoire. In 1994, he received a CBE for his services to the British fashion industry, and in 2000, he became the first UK fashion designer to receive a knighthood.

A Paul Smith preview takes place at his offices in Covent Garden, London | © Jonathan Player/REX/Shutterstock

His portfolio continues to thrive, and while tailoring remains at the core of the business, Smith has turned his hand to less formal clothing designs, too. In 2002, he worked with the FA Cup and Umbro on a range of accessories for the England football team, putting a spotlight on his own-label accessories and positioning himself in the nation’s eyeline. Past collaborations include Liberty London, Oakley sunglasses, Cappellini furniture and Mercian Cycles.

It’s additional projects like these that keep Smith’s fanbase growing, with his product mix now spanning childrenswear and travel accessories, too.

Paul Smith holds a preview at his offices in Covent Garden, London | © Jonathan Player/REX/Shutterstock

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