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

Picture of Sarah Leigh Bannerman
Fashion Editor
Updated: 26 September 2017
Born in Nottingham, where his namesake label is still based, Sir Paul Smith’s career in fashion blossomed after a bad accident redirected his dream of being a professional cyclist.

After working as a fashion buyer in his home city, Smith opened his first store, Paul Smith Vêtement Pour Homme, in 1970. It was the only destination outside of London to sell some of the industry’s most contemporary labels, including Kenzo and Margaret Howell, and before long, Smith was also selling his own label. In 1976, he showcased his first official collection at the menswear shows in Paris, which set the tone for the label’s now-established aesthetic, combining traditional heritage-inspired design with a sense of modernity and just a touch of eccentricity. Think classic, easy to wear tailoring cuts accented with witty print or splashes of colour.

Smith opened a second store in 1979 on Floral Street in Covent Garden, which remains one of the most iconic retail spots in the area. It’s as much a shopping experience as it is a work of art in design and architecture. The brand’s signature multi-coloured striping runs the length of floor and up the walls, lending an iconic edge that can’t be missed amongst the ever-changing boutiques in the surrounding area.

Smith ventured into womenswear design in 1993, and today it makes up a significant part of his 12-pronged empire. In 1994, he received a CBE for his services to the British fashion industry, but was later knighted in 2000, which until then had only been bestowed upon one other U.K. fashion designer.

Smith’s portfolio spans a host of impressive collaborations and projects, not least of which is his work with the FA Cup and Umbro in 2002 to provide a range of accessories designed specifically for the England football team. He has also worked with Oakley sunglasses, Mercian Cycles (a tribute to his lifelong passion for cycling) and Cappellini furniture. A keen photographer, Smith has shot some of his own campaigns and is author of You Can Find Inspiration in Everything.

The label lives on today, not just in the U.K., but globally, as well, and continues to push the boundaries of fashion design. In the Autumn/Winter 2017 show, for example, Smith sent women down the runway alongside the men in his menswear presentation. The collection nods to established signatures that remain relevant to the brand’s aesthetic and includes thoroughly British references, such as exclusive Liberty prints and the use of locally-sourced cashmere.