Paul Smith's world is pretty overwhelming. That's not to say ‘Hello, My Name is Paul Smith’ made us run home to our mothers in a confused state of being, moreover simply that expressing its delight to a third party begs the question, ‘where to start’.
We’ll start with the pink lettering; it’s great. It covers the white exterior of the Design Museum, is printed on the back of the postcards that litter the building’s entrance, and it makes up the word ‘HELLO’ that leads visitors to the exhibit’s doorway.
It’s a perfect introduction.
“He showed me what Japan looked like,” Director of the Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic said in his own introduction of the designer. “He spared me from a life of unnecessarily large suit lapels.”
Also speaking at the press conference that preceded today’s opening, the exhibition’s curator, Donna Loveday told how she spent “many many happy hours uncovering real gems” from Paul Smith’s archives.
"It's a very interesting exhibition because it comes from here,” added the designer himself, slapping his chest, “the heart not the wallet.”
And it does seem that way; such is the warmth and obvious passion that fills the space.
The main hall alone is literally coated with artwork from Smith’s personal collection; photos and paintings sit beside hand written letters, framed green tights (‘with compliments, the Sherriff of Nottingham’), carrier bags from Aaardvark’s Odd Ark, a mirror framed by shells, posters, campaigns and magazine covers.
It could be any family’s hallway until you realise the variety of what’s on show; The Beatles share space with Steven Gerrard and Anjelica Huston; the notes are from fans as opposed to loved ones.
One thing the designer is keen to acknowledge is that the exhibit is “absolutely not a retrospective". It’s not so much a biography but a diary, and the clothes take a backseat throughout as if to further verify this.
Instead the focus is on Paul Smith the man. The man who tells journalists at his own press conference, “If you ask a question I’ve got presents” and throws socks and notebooks at those who oblige.
"Feet on the ground, be humble, be patient,” he says when quizzed on his laid back attitude. Every day starts the same with a 5:15 am swim before heading to the office; "Put on a little bit of vinyl; Talking Heads this morning”
The exhibition itself begins with a mock up of Paul’s first shop – the 3x3 metre space ‘managed’ by his Afghan hound, Homer “we looked the same” – then is split into several rooms either side of the hall.
While it ends full circle with a swish video experience of his SS14 menswear show in Paris, the rest of the experience is not strictly chronological which makes moving around an easier affair.
In one room his office sits, recreated with full scale photos either side to fit everything in – “my office is crammed full of objects; I have a desk which I have never sat at because it is totally covered in things"; in another the bedroom that housed his very first collection for four days in Paris in 1976 is represented via a black and white flat set.
Elsewhere TV screens and mirrors form the basis of ‘Inside Paul’s Head’ – choice quote, "You can find out a lot about a city from its shops in a very short time" – while further down images of each of his own stores line a turquoise wall facing another smothered in buttons.
Both the designer and the curators are of course aware of his celebrity – want your photo taken with Paul? Five cardboard cutouts can help with that – but the exhibition fails to feel indulgent, as it’s genuinely interesting.
Walking around with a swarm of journalists, Paul Smith seems genuinely happy and gracious; a note on the large desk in ‘The Studio’ reads ‘A big thank you to all Design Museum staff and Paul Smith staff, Paul x’.
Until 9th March 2014. An accompanying book, 'Hello, My Name is Paul Smith: Fashion and Other Stories' is published by Rizzoli.
Words: Zoe Whitfield
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