To say there’s been a little buzz at Front Page towers about ‘Hello, my name is Paul Smith’—the exhibition that’s currently showcased at The Lighthouse design and architecture centre at the heart of Glasgow—is to put it lightly.
Paul Smith is probably one of the most successful and well-known British designers, and even though his core discipline is fashion—not something I’ve worked closely with—I really do have deep appreciation and admiration of what he has achieved as a designer. His style is now iconic and instantly recognisable, his name immediately creates an association with bright colours and stripes, and goes so much further than fashion in the strict ‘clothing’ sense of the word.
‘Hello, my name is Paul Smith’ greets visitors with bright pink lettering—no surprises there! But some real surprises are just round the corner. The exhibition features some of Smith’s art collection, although it’s perhaps not quite what you’d expect. The statement ‘style over substance’ certainly doesn’t apply here, as Paul’s Art Wall is not about big names or famous pieces, and taking a closer look reveals framed prints, original paintings, photographs, ranging from Warhol to Banksy—I’m sure I even spotted some framed stamps! It’s at this point you realise these are his inspirations, works that speak to him, that he has carefully pieced together over the years and surrounded himself with, rather than merely a collection.
Part of the exhibition is the reconstruction of Smith’s first shop in Nottingham—a really tiny room at the back of a building, such a long way from his unique shops worldwide now! To me, this speaks volumes about his determination to succeed and his genuine passion for what he does. One of the walls features a beautiful framed image of Paul Smith and his wife Pauline, with sentimental writing underneath: “For Pauline – without her, this would not have been possible”.
The concept of drawing inspiration from things that surround you is reiterated further at the ‘Inside Paul’s Head’ corner: “Ideas can come from anywhere – you can take inspiration from anything”. Just listening to the recording of Paul Smith talk about his approach to creative process is inspirational in itself; for him, beauty is in the little details.
A particularly interesting insight for me was being able to take a look at the reconstruction of Paul’s studio and office. His working spaces are filled with objects that at first glance could resemble clutter, but each one of them bears its own value and at one point or another prompted a thought, an idea that led to the creation of something unique. I have always been inclined to work at a ‘clean desk’, but perhaps it’s time for me to re-think that!
One of the corners of the exhibition space has been dedicated to collaborations. For Smith, these are both stimulating and challenging, a statement a lot of creative types would probably agree with. Being a strong advocate of collaborative approach in design myself, I do admire the fact that Paul Smith clearly states that his—and his brand’s—strength has always been to know when to say no, which is why the collaborations he has taken part in have been nothing less than excellent.
In my mind, when it comes to exhibitions about famous names in any industry or discipline, there’s very often a sense of cheapness. With an underlying feeling of this personality grasping at last straws to preserve their name and reputation, these showcases often have an ‘end of an era’ aftertaste. When it comes to ‘Hello, my name is Paul Smith’ however, this is most certainly not the case. Rather than simply a retrospective on his career in fashion, this exhibition is a true and intriguing insight into the mind of a talented, iconic designer.