Officially opening today, we had a chance to preview the ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith‘ exhibition at the Design Museum London yesterday and catch up with curator Donna Loveday. A follow-up to the museum’s 1995 show ‘Paul Smith: True Brit,’ this latest display takes us through the brand past and present; not a retrospective but rather a personal glimpse into the world of Paul Smith, a chance to nosey behind the scenes at the globally successful brand and the man behind it all. Take a look at the gallery for our full tour and hear more from our chat with Donna Loveday.
Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith runs 15 November 2013 – 09 March 2014 at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD.
Can you tell us how the initial idea for the exhibition came about?
We approached Paul with the idea about fourteen months ago. We started to talk about a concept early on. We were both clear that we wanted something very inspiring, something that took people on a journey and that brought in all the different elements of the brand; not just the clothes but all the other things beyond the collections that Paul is passionate about. And I think we’ve done that.
Can you tell us about some of those elements beyond the collections?
We look at the stores worldwide, we look at collaborations with Mini, Leica, Burton, John Lobb and so many more. We really wanted to focus on process. We recreated his design studio exactly as it is in Covent Garden. You’ll be able to follow the creation of a mainline print and see how the initial idea becomes a fabric pattern. There’s a section called ‘Inside Paul’s Head.’ We wanted to look at where he gets his inspiration from, where the ideas begin because they’re so many and varied. We recreated his office and populated it with original pieces from his old and new office. There’s also an immersive digital presentation next door that takes images from his huge photographic archive and looks at how they inform different elements from clothing to shop interiors. We’ve also included commentary from Paul which is really illuminating.
And in terms of the clothing and collections?
With the clothing, Paul chose pieces from the archive himself and we divided them into 4 key themes: British tradition, Travel, Colour and Print, recurring themes throughout his work. Then the finale, the fashion show film we worked on with Sony. They shot the men’s show in Paris in June using 4K which is incredible quality. It gives an insight into how the show comes together, lots of behind the scenes footage and some great shots of Paul arriving at the venue in Paris on a Dutch bicycle.
How long has it been in the making and how did you find the process?
Just over a year. Paul has been very generous with his time. We had regular design meetings with him and his team. That was really helpful. I remember presenting a model of the exhibition about half way through. It was nerve-racking but he said he loved it. He really went with the whole concept. Lots of trips up to the archive in Nottingham. They’re still working on putting the archive together actually so I spent a lot of time emptying boxes on the floor, that’s how I found some of the best content; early sketches by his wife Pauline, notes, photographs…it was so lovely to find things like that.
Do you think there’s something specific about Paul Smith that makes it and him so right for this sort of exhibition?
I love exhibitions that draw you into someone’s world, where you get to find out how someone ticks, where the ideas come from. Paul was perfect for that, he has so many things going on. Also, he’s a retailer at heart. Yes he’s a designer, a very savvy businessman but he began as a retailer. Even if people don’t buy anything in his stores he wants them to have a great experience. He designs with the customer in mind. I went to the Albemarle Street store today which is amazing, beautiful with that wall of dominoes which inspired our button wall here. Then I went over to Floral Street and it’s just so different, each one is unique.
How does the layout work?
We always wanted to start with Paul’s first shop, a 3 x 3 metre windowless room in a back street in Nottingham, that’s where it all began, so we recreated that. Then you enter this amazing corridor or as Paul calls it “the bit in the middle” which is lined with so many framed images, his photographs, prints he picked up at flea markets, letters he’s been sent…it references him as a collector, some might say a hoarder. Then you enter inside Paul’s head and the digital installation I mentioned, then his studio which carries some of his amazing advertising campaigns and promotional material, show invites, all so inventive. Some amazing photographers were involved right from the beginning, Mario Testino, David Bailey, now of course Paul shoots them all and it’s Alan Aboud who has designed most of that material and has also created the graphics here. Then the collections and the fashion show. We hope what comes through is Paul’s personality. His warmth, his wit which really informs everything he does. You know, he’s been in business over 40 years and it’s still going strong. He’s opening 25 new stores across China in the next 5 years, expanding worldwide and he just goes with it, he doesn’t get phased by anything.
What are your personal highlights from the exhibition?
Hmm, that’s difficult. Each room is so different. I love the hotel bedroom, the interiors team created that, painted with such precision, absolutely beautiful. I keep coming back to “the bit in the middle,” there’s so much to see. It’s hard to pick, I love it in its entirety.