My V&A: Paul Smith

The British designer has a giggle in the V&A as he shares his take on some intriguing pieces of glass, graphics and furniture

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Paul Smith said he could have chosen a thousand favourites from the V&A

But we made him settle on three objects that reflected his own design

Object: Pezzato Vase

Designer: Fulvio Bianconi

Date: 1950

Location: Glass Gallery

Paul Smith

It was a tough call to only choose three things for a start. I mean I chose this because I'm quite well known for my colour. If you look at the linings of Paul Smith suits..

Damien Whitmore

Thanks for the flash

Paul Smith

I could show you some other parts, but I won't. (laughs) So I'm quite well known for my colour so as you can see a lot of the glass in the gallery is clear or tinted but this one is real fun. It's got a sort of whimsy about it because it's very fine it's very delicate, it's patchwork. Patchwork is usually completely square because of practical reasons or octagonal but this one is very abstract and that's also quite clever. The designer I think he's called Bianconi, he studied in Venice for a start and he studied as an artist a graphic designer, a caricaturist… so I think his vision is quite wide and that's why you've got something that's quite… a very naughty word to describe something so beautiful, but it's very quirky. Especially in my industry everything is cut by a laser and machined by robots, so doing things by hand is a delight so I mean for instance the jacket I'm wearing is hand made, hand stitched even the arm holes are stitched in by hand and the fact that this is made by hand and also that it was made in the 50s, so that optimism after the war, suddenly using colour which they'd been playing with before the war and suddenly getting that again.

Damien Whitmore

What's the process for you Paul? You come to the V&A, you come, you see, you look you're inspired…


You try to take photographs and get told off by the security people (laughs) I'm joking…

I mean if you come…for example I've always got my notepad and pencil with me, so I might just come… well what I described there which is the unevenness of the patchwork which is lovely in its own right and also that he's got blue and turquoise together, which is very clashing colours and the fact that you put two colours that are very similar together, that could be the stripes of a sock, the stripes of a shirt. So just in this room I could get probably about 20 collections for the next 10 years.


Object: Official souvenir book, World's Fair

Designer: Donald Deskey

Date: 1939

Location: 20th Century Gallery


This book was the catalogue for the 1939 World Fair in New York. The cover is just so simple. The simplicity of it, the fact that if you bought a book these days with black and orange you'd be excited, but we're talking about 1939 here. Before you even get in the book you're already sold on the fact that this is something modern something for the future and of course the theme behind the whole thing is 'Pilgrimage to tomorrow' so it was about moving into the future with ideas, with architecture.

So just talking about the actual book itself, first of all one of the things it shows is all the exhibits the modern buildings that are going to be in the exhibition Again which are very, very of now.

And then you've got this delightful little section when it suddenly turns into black pages and that reads 'What my camera and I saw at the fair' so you can take your photographs and put them into the book so it becomes a little photo album.


Your own recording


Absolutely. And then there's a little section called diary which are obviously things that you can write as you go along… I'll put my specs on for this… There are lots of little sayings at the bottom. The nicest one, which is absolutely true, everyone are you listening? "You will never 'find' time for anything. If you want time you must make it." That is so true.


Graphic design is very important to Paul Smith would you say?


Well all aspects of design are important for me because I think a lot of creativity runs in parallel, so I mean you might be doing something which is quite minimal in terms of clothes, say in the early 80s black and white very simple and at the same time interiors were very black and white and simple and graphic design was embracing the age of computer. But now 20 something years later, people are willing to wear colour again

Interior designers are using things like wallpaper and rugs and decoration that they haven't done for a while and of course a lot of people are going back to illustration and using their hands. So it's always running in parallels. So a room like this (V&A Prints and Drawing Room) is such an amazing joy for designers to come along. Look at the modernity of it. Thank you very much (pretends to put it in his pocket)


Object: Drum Chair

Designer: Cecil Beaton

Date: 1939

Location: 20th Century Gallery


I was attracted to this because it was designed on a mad day at Cecil Beaton's house. Cecil Beaton who took great photographs designed sets, designed clothes, designed room settings. He was one of the few British dandys. Beaton was a real character, when he was at university he was famous for making jackets out of curtains and looking very extravagant. He had this room in his house that was turned into a circus room one afternoon by him and his mates one afternoon and that's how this (the drum chair) came about.

We're so immersed in 'good' design today that it's quite nice to see things that are just self indulgent and witty and with humour. It's almost got a coat of arms, of two drum sticks, that just makes me smile, you can just imagine them having fun with it.


Would you say that this is a very Paul Smith object?


Absolutely, absolutely. Kitsch, sense of fun and probably very beautifully made. So yes I would.

In today's world we're immersed in marketing and what you should do and the financial world and everything being manufactured and sent around the world and so many things looking the same so what a joy to find something that's a one off and mad. That'll do me.


Over the last 40 years, Paul Smith's international fashion brand has come to define what British good taste means: tailored modern classics often with a quirky and irreverent twist. His signature multi-coloured stripe design has become iconic.

In this film, the designer picks three items from the V&A collections that reflect the essence of Paul Smith -- eccentricity and elegance.  

Paul Smith picks three items from the V&A collections that reflect the essence of Paul Smith -- eccentricity and elegance...