Tailor-Made for Paul Smith
At an 1880 London building renovated by Barnard & Wilson, a showroom and office find a perfect fit
Stephen F. Milioti -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Levity, couched in familiarity, is the hall- mark of Paul Smith's clothing. His tailored dark gray wool suits, for example, might get a lift from apple-green silk lining. And a similar sensibility informs his new London office, where artwork and personal memorabilia enliven an honest 1880 brick building.
Getting through to that honest structure, however, involved a significant alteration job. Before Smith took over the four-story 35,000-square-foot loft-style building, it had housed a string of different businesses, the last being a telecommunications company. "There were hideous blue melamine tiles everywhere," he recalls. Not to mention badly placed electrical outlets, columns encased in blue Formica, ratty commercial-grade cut-pile carpet laid over layers of concrete flooring, inexplicably lowered ceilings, and inch-thick paint and plaster on the walls.
Clearly, Smith had quite a task ahead. That didn't stop him, though—intent as he was on centralizing his nine scattered London operations and 100-person staff at this single Covent Garden location. With a clear concept in mind, he called on Barnard & Wilson principal Brian Wilson to implement it. Levels one through three would house press and wholesale showrooms, plus the design studio; sales and the shoe-design team would occupy half of the top floor. Smith's own showroom and office would take over the other half.
Wilson began by revealing the original, Brooklyn Bridge–style girders beneath the Formica, scraping off that paint and plaster to expose brick walls, removing plaster and concrete from the ceiling, and stripping the floors to their original wood boards, buried a full 4 inches down. "Not only did we get more net space," says Wilson, "but we got the character of the building back, too."
Ground-floor reception and Smith's top-floor showroom and office received an extra injection of personality—after all, that's where the boss spends the bulk of his time. "Having worked with Paul for so long, I know his style well," says Wilson, who's completed 200-plus Paul Smith stores in Europe, Asia, and North America over the past 20 years.
As anyone who's ever been to one of those stores knows, Smith sees a bare wall as an inspiration board in the making. An expanse of white quickly becomes a gallery of mementos, sketches, and photographs, a collage that changes according to his latest encounters and experiences. The same holds true at his 1,000-square-foot showroom and office.
Populating a wall in the office, for instance, is an eclectic grouping of framed items: a photograph of the Italia Campagnola del Mondo, a still from Luchino Visconti's Il Gattopardo, a T-shirt advertising the film Let's Get Lost, a snake drawing used for Paul Smith accessories. Smith also collects drawings by students at London's Slade School of Fine Art, where he underwrites an annual scholarship.
Myriad custom bookshelves—under windows, covering entire walls—hold what is arguably one of the largest collections of volumes ever seen in a fashion studio, with topics ranging from architecture (Hollywood Style by Arthur Knight) to children's stories (The Boy's Own Annual from the late 1800's). Furnishings, conversely, are few: little more than a Tobia Scarpa sofa from the 1960's, chairs by Jens Quistgaard and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the British 1970's rosewood desk where Smith works.
Composing the story line of the Paul Smith PS autumn-winter 2004 collection, he drew on memories of Granny Takes a Trip, the Chelsea boutique famous in the 1970's for its rock-star clientele and splashy storefront, the latter entirely covered with the image of a blond-haired cartoon ingenue. Re-created on a wall in Smith's showroom, amid the large windows and hanging cable-tray display fixtures, she helps keep the overall impression light. Rather like Smith's fashion sense.