This time last year Paul Smith celebrated his fiftieth anniversary with a bells and whistles fashion show in Paris. There was a greatest hits collection and Susan Sarandon and Jon Hamm front row. This year, things are a little different. Paris men’s fashion week is largely digital and Smith’s show on Friday afternoon was a behind-closed doors event with no audience. It was filmed in London and streamed online as part of the Paris schedule for autumn/winter 2021.
Speaking ahead of the show, Smith said the shift to digital could have its advantages. “You’ll see far more than if it was a regular fashion show and you were in the audience…the detail of the shoes or the bags or the pocket,” he said. “When you think about [a model] walking down the catwalk, you normally see them for about 12 seconds.”
If the presentation has been affected by the pandemic, the collection itself was too. Based on different subcultures including mod, punk and grunge, pieces were mixed up in a way that chimed with most people’s wardrobes in the last year – a smart coat over a pair of slouchy jeans, for example, or a puffer jacket worn with a statement shirt. Smith points to a pair of silk pyjamas worn under an overcoat. “The idea is that you have been lounging around all day and then you fancy a coffee so you put your overcoat on the top,” he says. “Of course, [the pyjamas are] extremely elegant because they are silk, not Wincyette or whatever those old-fashioned ones were made of.”
Smith, who began his company in 1970, is known for his suits. And the designer himself has a stuck to this look throughout lockdown, despite wider trends towards more casual items like sweatpants and slippers. “Don’t laugh but I have still been wearing my suits,” he says. “I have got one on today. A navy blue tonic suit with a black poloneck.”
The collection demonstrated Smith’s commitment to tailoring – with at least five suits included. They were mixed with pieces that straddled an office-ready wardrobe and one for working from home. As well as those pyjamas, more relaxed shapes and statement printed shirts would play out well in a day spent on video calls.
Smith is open to the idea that the live fashion show may be on its way out. He suggests the pandemic has been the catalyst for change long called for by environmental activists.“It’s not financial, the question of the future of the fashion show,” he says “it’s very much about Greta [Thunberg] and whether we should all be flying around the world.”
With stores closed, Smith’s online sales are up 49% over the six months with lockdown friendly items like cycling helmets and dressing gowns best-sellers. He says “online could very much be the future” but holds out hope for physical spaces. Paul Smith stores, with their collections of toys, books, art and knick knacks have long been about more than clothes. They are destinations, and the designer thinks this may prove a factor. “If everybody suddenly goes to online you could argue that cancels itself out because everyone is doing the same thing,” he says. “Maybe then there’s a desire to go back to a shop where you get conversations. People always say to me ‘I love going to your shops because even if I don’t want anything they’re always so interesting.’”
Dior’s menswear collection was also shown on Friday. Designer Kim Jones worked with artist Peter Doig, translating his artwork – which sells for millions – into prints and onto hats. Doig, who is known for with muted colours and ghostly figures, created two characters for Jones: a lion as seen in his paintings, and a dog, inspired by Christian Dior’s beloved pet, Bobby.