Birthplace: Nottingham, England
Awards: Number One Men's Wear Designer, Journal du Textile 1992, 1993, 1994
It is rare for men's fashions to change direction significantly. Only three designers are noted for redirecting men's fashions: Pierre Cardin in the 1960s with tapered jackets and flared pants, Giorgio Armani in the 1980s with broad-shouldered power suits, and Paul Smith in the 1990s with high buttoned suits. Smith executed a simple change in men's suit jackets: he moved the top button from the navel to the chest and added narrow cut pants to create what would become the standard yuppie uniform.
Paul Smith was born in Nottingham, England, the son of a door-to-door textile salesman. At sixteen, while managing a small boutique, he meet Pauline Denyer, a design teacher. Denyer provided training and guidance to the fledging designer. In 1970 Smith founded a small 12-foot by 12-foot store in Nottingham, open only on the weekends so that he could work odd jobs during the week to finance the operating expenses. Over the next four years, Smith worked to establish himself and refine his design skills, and in 1974 he launched his own label. Two years later, he opened his first store in London and began showing his collections in Paris.
Smith's early work was very conventional, but in 1982 he redirected his designs to reflect his own extravagant, unconventional personality. He used vibrant colors such as raspberry and turquoise, lined traditional dark suits with bright red silk, and adorned his basic white dress shirts with wineglass cuff links and pistol buttons. He brought a new direction to menswear by infusing color and whimsy into both tailored and casual menswear fashions.
Behind Smith's eccentric facade lies a shrewd businessman. He has maintained joint ownership of his company with his partner and companion Pauline Denyer. Smith, England's most successful designer, with stores throughout England, Australia, and the Far East, outsells both Armani and
Ralph Lauren in Japan. He has expanded his company to include accessory, women's, and children's lines, and he holds several licensing agreements including eyewear with Oliver Peoples (1994), men's footwear with Overland Group (1999), neckwear and cuff links with Insignia Design Group (1998), women's wear with Gibo (1993), and fragrance and beauty products with Inter Parfums SA (2000). In 1991 he purchased the R. Newbold factory where he has been manufacturing his shirts since 1977, and in 1993 he launched the R. Newbold line of men's casual clothing.
The final frontier for Smith lies in the United States. Smith currently owns one store in New York and is looking for a partner to finance his expansion into the competitive U.S. market. H&S International Holding Company previously held Smith's license for men's casual wear in the United States, but he discontinued the agreement in 1990 when he was realized he was known in the United States solely as a casual-wear designer. Smith will not reenter the U.S. market until he can find a distributor for both his couture and casual-wear lines. Conquering the U.S. market will mark the ultimate achievement for this otherwise globally renowned, trendsetting men's fashion designer. See also: Giorgio Armani; Ralph Lauren. Website: http://www.paulsmith.co.uk
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