A serious accident while riding his bike put paid to Paul Smith’s dream of becoming a professional racing-cyclist. However, this mishap propelled him to pursue a career involving his other passion: fashion. In 1970, Smith (born Nottingham, 1946) opened a store in his native city, selling his own early designs that reflected the types of clothing he loved but was unable to buy anywhere else. Studying fashion design at evening classes, and working closely with his wife, Pauline Denyer, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, by 1976 lie was showing a full range of menswear in Paris.
Carving out a distinctive look that combined the best of traditional English attire often with unusual or witty prints, Smith blazed a trail throughout the late ’70s. His progress continued into the ’80s – when he put boxer shorts back on the fashion map – and beyond, with stores opened in New York (1987), and Paris (1993).
The designer now has a staggering 300 shops in Japan, and also offers a range of womenswear (launched in 1994) and clothing for kids, in addition to accessories, books, jewellery, fragrances, pens, rugs and china.
In 2001 Smith was knighted, and despite the success and breadth of his company – wholesaling to thirty-five countries around the globe – his hands-on involvement remains integral to its success. Commercial accomplishments aside, Smith’s aesthetic has retained its idiosyncrasies. His autumn/winter 2005 womenswear collection, with its tartan tailoring and trilbies, was a sideways glance at the ’60s; for his menswear, in the same season, Smith gave a lesson in clash and contrast, putting python trousers with checked jackets and floral shirts.