Successful fashion designer, multi-millionaire businessman and a knight of the realm to boot – Sir Paul Smith is a true British icon.
Renowned for his stylish menswear collections and signature stripes, Britain’s foremost designer has had a huge impact on the world of fashion– but his legacy goes much further.
We take a look back over Sir Paul Smith’s illustrious 50 year career, and find out how he helped to turn the humble stripe into a style icon, found on everything from clothes to striped carpets and modern vinyl flooring.
STARTING OUT AND PLAN B
Born in Nottingham, Paul Smith never planned to go into fashion – as a teenager, he was a keen sportsman, and left school at 14 to focus on his first passion, cycling.
Smith had hoped to become a race cyclist, but suffered a serious road accident in his late teens, which left him in hospital for several months and ended his dreams of turning pro (although he’s remained a keen amateur cyclist to this day).
It was whilst recuperating in hospital that Paul made several friends with close connections to London’s burgeoning music, art and fashion scene – opening his eyes to a new world that would define his career.
EARLY STRUGGLES – EARNING HIS STRIPES
Paul’s first foray into the world of fashion was anything but glamorous – starting at the bottom working a menial job in a clothing warehouse in Nottingham after leaving school.
His keen eye for style helped him to rising through the ranks, and he began making displays for the showroom, before being appointed as menswear buyer.
Smith also began to take tailoring lessons, and after scraping together £600, opened his first menswear shop, a tiny 12ft-square, windowless space in Nottingham, in 1970, called Paul Smith Vêtement Pour Homme.
The early days of his shop were difficult, and he kept it afloat by selling screen-printed t-shirts at music gigs in London.
There were times when he couldn’t even afford to go to the big fabric houses to order material for his clothes. Instead, Smith had to buy his materials from stock houses, which invariably only stocked white fabric for making shirts, along with some striped materials…
THE STRIPES OF SUCCESS
Paul made a success of the shop, stocking popular labels of the time like Kenzo and Margaret Howell, alongside a few of his own pieces, many of which featured some kind of striped design.
Smith began to develop his own unique style – classic, with a small twist, and quintessentially English, but with an air of eccentricity in every detail. In 1976, he showed his first collection in Paris – with stripes at the centrepiece of the design.
Taking elements and ingredients from upper class tailoring, Paul continued to develop unique menswear collections complete with little features and colourful accents to make them different – accompanied by some variation on the stripy theme.
The business flourished, and Paul opened his first London store in 1979, followed by a series of others throughout the 1980s, before opening his first overseas store in New York.
After decades of using every variation of stripes in his collections, Paul developed the ‘definitive stripe’ for the company logo in the 1990s. Comprising 28 different colours when woven, and 14 when printed, it’s become an instantly recognisable symbol.
The distinctive Paul Smith stripes aren’t just a fashion mainstay – over the years, Paul has collaborated with dozens of the world’s biggest brands to create unique, signature versions of a wide range of popular products.
It’s here that we can see the real extent of Paul Smith’s influence on the world around him, and of course, the signature stripes are an integral part of many of these designs.
From water bottles (Evian), ornaments (Lladro) and furniture (Carl Hansen), to scooters (Swifty Scooter), bikes (Mercian Cycles) and cars (Mini), big brands queue up to have their products redefined by Smith’s unique design approach.
Smith has even collaborated with carpet suppliers on a signature rug!
Today, Paul Smith is one of the world’s most successful fashion brands, with a presence in 66 countries, and 17 shops in the UK alone.
The company now releases 28 collections a year across its 14 different divisions – and whilst the designs are constantly evolving, the signature stripes remain a constant presence, and look set to do so for the foreseeable future.
Where Paul Smith leads, other companies follow, and striped designs are more popular than ever across the world of fashion and retail – just as they are in the world of carpets.
More and more carpet suppliers are embracing the trend, and striped carpet is becoming a popular choice for style conscious homeowners looking to add contemporary design flair to a modern home.
At CarpetRight, we stock a wide range of striped carpets and vinyl flooring, available in a variety of colours, including some with multi-faceted barcode inspired stripes that are reminiscent of Paul Smith’s iconic signature design.