It would probably be easy for Paul Smith to rely on his reputation as one of Britain's most enduring and pre-eminent fashion designers, but he used the London Collections: Men as an opportunity to reinforce the pioneering spirit and experimental design that made his name an industry favourite. Each season, Paul Smith's British Collection sets out to rejuvenate familiar tailoring textiles to bring a bold, contemporary twist to timeless suiting.
“Lots of people [wear suits] in a very classical way … but a more creative guy can wear it in a different way.”
Paul Smith's autumn winter 2014/15 collection showcased the designer's exploration of innovations in weaving.
"It's doing things that are from effort and from artisan qualities. These fabrics are made by Clissold in Yorkshire and they've made a big effort to do things which are very special."
The soft water flowing through Yorkshire's Pennine Hills - all the better for finishing the worsted and woollen cloths traditionally used in men's tailoring - has been a drawcard for textile manufacturers for hundreds of years since Joseph H. Clissold turned out his first fabrics in 1910. Today, the company that bears his name is among the most prestigious in the textile industry.
Paul Smith has a long association with the mill and ensured every cloth used in the AW14/15 collection passed through the Clissold looms, touched by the hands of the craftsmen and heritage. Working together, the boundaries of cloth construction are pushed. As the label explains in the collection notes, the collaboration sought to "celebrate the inherent qualities of wool. Every piece of cloth is a masterpiece of weaving."
Presenting the collection at Essie of Mayfair - as a leading purveyor of fine carpets, another business which appreciates the exceptional craft of weaving - Smith's vision became clear. His experimentation is not confined to the fabrics themselves, but also the patterns and how they are applied to the suiting and even how they are styled.
“The clothes we’re showing here are to do with effort. So it’s not just about homogenised mass production.”
In some instances, the designer began with the kind of treatments expected of a conservative suit wearer before turning things on their head. There is the traditional Prince of Wales check, rendered in a staid monochromatic palette, but under Smith's guidance, the distinctive pattern is blown up by 600%, bringing a bold and graphic new interpretation. The businessman's staple, the chalk stripe is reimagined in a way that is reminiscent of raindrops trickling down a window pane.
"[The chalk stripe] actually disappears so it's a very classical looking suit but it's got a uniqueness about it," Smith says.
Elsewhere, oversized floral motifs are engineered to repeat across fabric in jacquard weaves, first woven into the cloth before being cut into the suit itself - a technique seen across the collection. And while the suits themselves let the extraordinary fabrics shine, taking on a timeless, slim silhouette, Paul Smith elects to team them back with chambray and denim shirting and ethnic-style scarves.
"So I'm showing you a very beautiful quality suit but with a chambray shirt, the scarf and a pen or a top pocket handkerchief," Smith says. "And that's how a modern guy is going to wear a suit."
It seems when you've been playing with convention for over four decades, it's hard to do things any other way.