Hello, My Name is Paul Smith
Earlier this month, we invited Karlie Wu - 3rd year Painting and Printmaking student and founder of Glaswegian Westwood - to share her interpretation on the Lighthouse's latest offering. Titled 'Hello, My Name is Paul Smith', this latest exhibition showcases as much as it gallerizes the life and studio space of the English Designer. As an avid follower of Smith's collections since her teen years, Karlie Wu writes:
Everyone has a ‘memorable year’ when it comes to fashion. That might be owed to the innovative collections shown, or the (sometimes questionable) trends that sprung and infiltrated our wardrobes; or perhaps a more personal interpretation. For me, the year in which I found pivotal in my understanding and relationship with fashion most definitely came in 2012 - that is, Paul Smith’s Spring 2012 RTW Womenswear. I was growing increasingly tired and frustrated with the graphic t-shirt/skinny jean uniform or dainty dress and linen blazer that seemed to be ascribed to the average sixteen year old, and yearned for something different. I would finish school soon and realised that I needed to learn how to dress like an ‘adult’ and more importantly, find some sort of style I was comfortable with. I wanted something more mature - something more tailored.
There is one image that I remember being unsure of but kept returning to - despite sifting through innumerable volumes of fashion magazines. The simple combination of women in menswear inspired pieces carried an alluring, cool and sophisticated androgynous quality that I’d never seen before. It had both the maturity and tailored quality I was searching for, and more. I will always refer to this ensemble as the prime source of inspiration for my current way of dressing but more decisively, it sparked a much bigger interest in the art and philosophy of dressing.
So when I heard that there was a Paul Smith exhibition that was showing so close to home - and that they were looking for installation volunteers - ‘excited’ is perhaps an understatement. I may only be cleaning and tidying but here was the potential to get as close to the material I admired for so long.
Fashion exhibitions, much like art ones, showcase only a selection of key works. We are met with an array of beautiful designs with just hints of the resources and hard graft involved. Occasionally, we are given a glimpse of the designer’s method through curated sketches, photographs and the objects in question. As insightful as this is, I sometimes find it difficult to connect with because I don’t know what the sources are. I can’t quite follow how the original point of reference has inspired the artist-designer and transformed into a work that I’ve come to appreciate. Which is why, for me, the exhibition at the Lighthouse felt different.
As you walk in and have read the brief biography of Smith’s humble beginnings, you are guided by the giant magenta ‘HELLO’ through to what is termed the ‘Art Wall’. Here, tiled floor to ceiling, is just a small sample from the designer’s own collection: a vast, random mixture of photographs, paintings; prints; drawings; even a framed pair of green stockings titled ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’; all either found by himself or gifted by friends and strangers alike. One can begin to see where his collections may have come from, what it is that Smith observes and transforms.
Following through, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had walked into someone’s private office: as we are faced with a recreation of Smith’s. Here lies another vast array of oddities he’s amassed, from model cars to a sculpture of spaghetti on a plate (and matching shirt). This conveys a much better sense of his working tactic more so than any fully annotated sketch or article could offer. Likewise in his art collection, I can see some semblances of his designs in the objects he accumulates, and this is what makes it all the more exhilarating. Did the colours of the Spring 2014 Menswear come from that pastel pink and purple vacuum cleaner, or the pink bike?
Moving round one is faced with another reconstruction: this time of his design studio. Strewn across the dozen tressled tables are drawings, prints, fabric and leather samples, thread wraps, books, magazines, mood boards - all that’s missing are the people who work there. Maybe they’ve popped out for lunch. If you stand just close enough to scan what’s on display, you can even see some tidbits that refer to his most recent designs.
Finally, spaced out on roughly a dozen sleek black railings that are displayed so tantalisingly close, are articles from predominantly recent collections: patterned shirts and dresses, to strong colour blocked jumpers and even a few garments from his Spring 2016 RTW Womenswear that was only shown back in September. There are also two flat screens showing some other series, and behind the scenes footage of my favourite menswear to date, the aforementioned Spring 2014. In his clothes, there is always more than meets the eye. His meticulous nature is reflected in the subtlety of coloured buttonholes for example, or a flash of an unusual patterned lining when lifted by a breeze, makes what is often seen as a ‘quintessentially British’ silhouette stand out from the rest. Smith’s method of reviving classic cuts with these quirky touches and his Rothko and Matisse inspired palettes are all causes for admiration.
The exhibition itself is very modest in comparison to the others that I have seen and doesn’t showcase all that many garments. Instead, there is more of a focus on Smith’s personal and working environment as opposed to actual practice. I have come away feeling very inspired, perhaps more so than the larger shows and retrospectives I have visited, as an artist-designer’s work is very much in conversation with what they are surrounded by. I found that seeing a showcase like this is in fact more telling than the creations themselves. Additionally to having a unique perspective of the show before it was fully set up, I also had the invaluable experience and pleasure of being able to handle some of the designer’s archival material. Paul Smith once again further broadened my insight into fashion just as that ensemble did in 2012, reminding me that it is just as imperative to have fun, as it is to observe and pursue with passion. The sincerity of his personality and mantra resonates throughout ‘Hello, My Name is Paul Smith’ at The Lighthouse true to its words, most concretely through its reconstructions: that you can find inspiration in everything (and if you can’t, you’re not looking properly).
Although he isn’t there in person to tell me, he certainly is in cardboard form.
Article & Photography by Karlie Wu
Hello, my Name is Paul Smith runs at The Lighthouse until the 20th of March.