This Sunday I was invited to delve into the mind of a true fashion hero, Paul Smith. See, this is a pretty big deal to me, as in a way, Paul has been a part of my family for years; My brother having worked in his Covent Garden store for years and my father being absolutely obsessed with every aspect of his designs. My parental household is littered with the striped mini cooper motif and pretty printed florals and landscapes on almost every fabric, it’s almost like being in a Paul Smith shop itself.
Hello My Name Is Paul is an exhibition celebrating and acknowledging Paul Smiths bumpy ride into the fashion world; from 6 months in hospital to his first shop, from his wife Pauline to his first exhibition held in a hotel room. Even knowing his brand myself I did not know half the journey he has been on to achieve such heights. Drawing on Paul’s love of individuality, colour, playfulness and his hands-on approach at being a designer, this exhibition was almost overwhelmingly heart warming and down to earth whilst retaining absolute style.
A series of rooms display various interactive ‘mood board’ like exhibits. Starting with a to-scale model of his first shop (a 3 metre long windowless room), leading on to a 4D Sony screen experience displaying Paul’s visual inspirations, a scale model of his office (correct right down to the pencils and sketches), a look into the offices of his workers, a room stuffed to the brim of famous brand collaborations, a film documenting the back stage antics of a catwalk show, and a showcase of his favourite pieces of clothing throughout the years.
The main ‘sections’ of the space are broken up by pinned up pictures of his past photo shoots, walls studded with buttons and luxurious fabrics, and ends with a photo opportunity with a cut-out Paul Smith. An entire room littered with amazing images and drawings is the icing on the cake, making an amazing, aesthetically beautiful and completely interactive experience.
I came out of the exhibition with a firmly grounded opinion that Paul Smith and his empire is one of the best things to ever happen to the fashion universe; and what is more fulfilling than an exhibition jam packed full of deliciously fun and exciting things than an iPad app that adds an entirely new dimension to that experience? (Nothing, if you’re wondering what the answer to that question was.)
The app is essentially an extension of his exhibition, and consists of 4 main interactive spaces. Let me provide a breakdown:
Ok, you know that popular trope used in film and TV, the white void room? This first section of the app is a lot like that, no edges, a completely white, fluid space where anything can happen. Paul puts you in one, then fills the ‘anything’ with clusters of themed photo sets, preciously cut into delicate and fun little shapes that you can tap to bring up the full image. It’s a beautifully kitsch and fresh way to display photos without condoning boredom and the act of zoning out us bloggers get when spending too much time on Tumblr. The sets are arranged randomly and reminiscent of little bunches of flowers blooming all over the screen – intentional or not, I like where he’s going with this. And despite being themed, the photos you click on really could be anything, from street scenes, catwalks, graffiti and lost toys. Paul is saying here that inspiration for designing clothes is not restricted to looking at other pieces of clothing, as photography is his hobby, he finds inspiration just by looking through a lens, and it’s incredible once you realise that the colours of a dress derive from graffiti down Portobello road, it really is.
Just when you think it couldn’t get more amazing, here’s Paul at your side urging you to find your own colour inspiration. In this section of the app the camera is used. The instructions tell you to find 5 colours in the scene you are pointing the camera at. My house wasn’t the most exciting place to start, it was more like: black, brown, medium brown, dark brown, beige BUT I saw what it was trying to do. After successfully selecting my sepia tones the app asks you to choose a pattern from; a fancy dot pattern, a fancy line pattern, a fancy small optical dot pattern and an extremely fancy foliage pattern. It then amazingly displays your colour pallet, on the digital fabric of your choice, and you can shift the colours around till it works for you. I’m pretty much a fashion designer now thanks Paul! But in all seriousness, this allows the user to see the works going on behind a designers eyes, and how it may look random, and they might tell you so but this whole colour pallet area is a serious (-ly fun) business to be messing about with. But it’s all fun and games here in app world, and it’s cute as hell, too.
More white void room moments with Paul Smith; stairs edition! After tiring your little eyes out choosing colours and realising themes, all you want to do is read some fun stories and look at nice pictures. Paul has graciously provided us some; granted you take a walk up a little imaginary staircase. Again, you aren’t allowed to get bored even by the way the page scrolls up, diagonally, across, around, like real life stair walking! As you scroll you can tap on the pictures to read all about them, and as much as Paul likes themes, there doesn’t seem to be one in this part of the app, just plain ol’ good times. From this seemingly random mish-mash of images it’s not hard notice the little bits of the designers brain that are exactly like ours – a comforting moment personally, as someone possibly suffering a quarter-life crisis right this second. (joking!)
We’ve reached the final lap, and it’s a world full of inspirational post-it notes. The app allows you to drag around and shuffle a big pile of notes hand written by Paul and choc-a-block full of all the nicest words in the dictionary and all the best advice a man could give to all the youngsters (and oldsters – heres looking at you Papa Sando) that look up to him. It’s the punny ones like “Concentrate on the doughnut, not the hole!” that got to me most. Along with these shots of advice are also a lot of notes that will completely erase any serious or stern thought you had about the man; “Why do snakes flys and spiders have bad images” WHY HAVE I NEVER QUESTIONED THIS BEFORE, PAUL?
Let’s quickly conclude; Paul Smith wants everyone in the world to be his best friend and you are denying yourself complete happiness by not downloading this FREE app and/or buying a ticket to his exhibition at the London Design Museum (ends 9th March 2014).
Ella Sando, Over and Out.