Paul Smith

Thinking outside the box
by Paul Smith

Paul Smith creates a colorful, upbeat world shaped by his inquiring eye. Each month, he shares his vision of things. Today, an invitation to “think outside the box.”

In my job, in the world of fashion and design, it’s vitally important to know what’s happening in order to decide which way to turn at important moments, whether to go right or left in order to avoid the obvious route.

I learned that many years ago when I attended a lecture by Edward de Bono, the inventor of the phrase “lateral thinking,” which is what we mean today when we use the phrase “thinking outside the box.” He said something in that lecture that has stayed with me ever since: “The job changes you. You never change the job.” That’s why, when I launched my first little shop almost half a century ago, I opened it only on Fridays and Saturdays, while I spent the rest of the week earning money as a freelance designer working for other people in order to support and build my own project. If I hadn’t done that, if I’d left my freelance job, relied entirely on the little shop and taken the risk of opening six days a week from the start, I probably wouldn’t be writing these words now. Lateral thinking came in useful when I was planning to open a shop in Los Angeles and found a site on Melrose Avenue. LA is almost 60 km across, Melrose Avenue is more than 15 km long and we needed something that would attract attention. So we built a shop shaped like a large low shed and painted it bright pink, which looks very striking and beautiful against the blue Southern California sky. The idea came from my admiration for the late Luis Barragán, the Mexican architect who used a lot of color on his buildings. Now I’m told that the Paul Smith shop on Melrose Avenue has become the most Instagrammed building in California, which means it must be doing its job.

Sir Paul Smith dreamed of longer runways than those found in the fashion world: a bicycle buff, he wanted to become a racing cyclist, but an accident put an end to that. Present today in 70 countries, the designer (born in Beeston in 1946) sets a tone—but not the rules—subscribing to the motto “think global, act local.”

© Paul Smith - Jean-Michel Tixier / Talkie Walkie