This week the quirky, quintessentially English designer Paul Smith announced that his 40-year career will be the subject of an extensive and immersive exhibition, Hello My Name Is Paul Smith, at London’s Design Museum from 15 November 2013 to 9 March 2014.
Hello My Name Is Paul Smith charts the designer’s unconventional yet unmistakably classic English design with a twist from its beginnings to the present day. The story starts in his first 12-foot-square shop in Nottingham, England, and progresses through his first Paris collection in 1976 to behind-the-scenes footage of his fashion shows, whose advertising campaigns he photographs himself, to today’s unique Paul Smith stores, including the soon-to-open flagship on Albemarle Street in London’s elegant Mayfair district.
The exhibition takes a detailed look at the Paul Smith fashion and design empire, which now has 14 collections sold in over 70 countries and over 200 stores in Japan alone.
Many of Paul Smith’s collaborations will also be on show, from a striped Mini car, a Leica camera and Burton snowboard to cycling jerseys for the Giro d’Italia, suits for Manchester United football club and a recent shoe collection created with John Lobb.
In an impressive feat of staging, Paul Smith’s very first Nottingham store (complete with a facsimile of its former manager, Smith’s Afghan hound Homer) will be recreated, as will his personal Covent Garden office, to allow visitors unprecedented access to his creative process. ‘It’s full of hundreds of books and objects either acquired during his travels or given as gifts,’ says Donna Loveday, curator of the exhibition, describing the office. ‘I’ve sat in design meetings in the office and you cannot help but be completely distracted by everything around you.’
Many gifts given to Paul Smith from all over the world will also feature, including those from an anonymous donor who has been sending unwrapped objects through the post for over 20 years.
‘Our mystery person has been sending us things for over 20 years,’ says Paul Smith. ‘Very sensible things like a ski, one ski, or a skateboard, a traffic cone, a piece of wood, a seashell, a cowbell, a broom – 20 years this unknown person has been sending things to me and they’re never boxed. They just arrive with the stamps on them. We got a big huge plastic daisy arrive last week. It’s become like performance art now, the postman arrived with a very large Austrian cowbell round his neck… We’re never surprised.’
Smith says that the aim is to create an exhibition that interests everyone, not just fashion students. ‘We want to encourage all types of people to come to the exhibition, that’s why it’s not elitist, it’s very honest.’
In a career spanning many decades and industries Paul Smith has much to be proud of – but, when asked if there was anything he looked back on that scared him, he said: ‘I was on Nottingham station recently and I saw, with horror, a man standing by the platform wearing a turquoise coat with dinosaurs printed on it … not one of my better moments.’
We will have to wait and see if the coat makes it into the exhibition but, even if it doesn’t, there will be plenty more to entertain visitors – bring on November!