Fashion
  • Text  Alex James Taylor
  • Photography Gwénaëlle Trannoy
  • 25th January 2016

Don't look back in anger

In 1970 Paul Smith opened his first ever shop, the sign read: ‘Paul Smith Vêtements pour Hommes’ (his recent presentation during L:CM saw a recreation of this store – complete with his beloved Afghan hound, Homer). Six years later Smith staged his first menswear show – a discreet affair – at a friend’s Paris apartment.

Yesterday, forty years on from that inaugural show, and just across the Seine at the Bourse de Commerce, Smith was feeling nostalgic. Perhaps the devastating news of David Bowie – a friend and idol of Smith’s – was the catalyst for this mindset. However, this wasn’t regressive longing for bygone eras, Smith doesn’t do backwards thinking, this was the Nottingham-born designer reigniting what he does adeptly, tapping into the zeitgeist and tuning it towards the future.

With this in mind, Smith had a lot of inspiration to build upon, a whole lot has happened through his enduring tenure. And, as is frequently the case with Smith, music laid the foundations. Yesterday’s soundtrack was a mixtape ode to Britain’s finest: The Rolling Stones, The Happy Mondays, The Stranglers, Queen, The Specials, The Jam, The Stone Roses, amongst others. It’s a canon Smith fits snugly amongst in terms of trailblazing status. These bands not only changed the face of music, but fashion too.

Each cultural epoch blaring out the speakers was reflected on the catwalk through Smith’s signature designs. Vibrant colours from the off: long wooden coats came in rich burgundy, green and red above equally loud trousers and knitwear. The ode to colour blocking hit the ground running. As attention turned to suiting the palette became more muted, but equally eye-catching, finely cut tailoring that would make Paul Weller swoon with envy, all straight cut and lurex pinstriped – 100 percent Ace Face credentials. These sat above cycling tops (an inspiration source close to Smith’s heart having left school at 15 with the ambition of becoming a professional racing cyclist) zipped and striped, conceiving a sports-suit hybrid.

A typically British affair – cuppa and a Paul Smith branded biscuits were on offer to attendees, a chic alternative to crowd favourite pie and mash – as the nation’s subcultural tribes informed the collection. From the ultimate mod combo of sharp suiting and impeccable bowling shoes, the collection moved through 70s psychedelia (paisley motifs and flared trousers), glam (heeled leather boots and vibrant colour blocking) and Britpop (a mix of lanky Jarvis Cocker silhouettes and feminine Brett Anderson-esque styling). It was all there in one glorious myriad of references. 

Backstage models wore t-shirts adorned with the number ’69’, a nod to Smith’s age. While dinosaur prints were a recurring motif on the catwalk – we assume these were not a suggestion to Smith’s age – alongside digitally-printed peaches on bomber jackets, a reference to Smith’s pioneering use of photo printing techniques.

As the delicate piano intro of Bowie’s Oh, You Pretty Things fed through the speakers the model’s entered for their finale. Here was Smith revisiting his design signatures yet taking his cues from the here, now, and tomorrow, as all great designers do. It’s only rock ’n’ roll, but we love it.