Irreverence is the key to success

From humble beginnings in Nottingham 25 years ago, clothes designer Paul Smith (above) has developed into one of the brightest stars in the retail firmament, with a worldwide business that has an annual turnover of pounds 142m. Also a consultant to the Department of Culture, Smith continues to produce the innovative ideas that have kept him at the forefront of the fashion world, and in demand from industry and advertisers. With his latest scheme soon to hit London - a shop in a Notting Hill townhouse that will be like visiting someone's home - Smith offers an illustrated guide to how to make yourself stand out in the crowd, and makes a plea to anyone who has ever thought of selling anything - be different (he is).

Stuck on lipstick

This is just a beautiful magazine cover, from 1959. You contrast it with magazine covers today, when they are dictated by links to advertisers, or make-up manufacturers. Again, commercial considerations are uppermost. I've a passion for trying to get companies to invest in new ideas, even if it means writing off money on projects that might not end up working. If you make pounds 10m a year why not put half a million aside to create a magazine made of fabric, for example?

Use your eyes

Giorgio Armani asks, "What's happened to originality?" Everything is now linked to commerce and the bottom line. It's killing freedom. The British fashion industry has matured tremendously in the last few years, but the bulk of our designers earn their money abroad; we've still got a long way to go. The message above is one I use to emphasise the need for originality. You can't walk round looking at the ground all the time.

Streets ahead

I take my camera everywhere. I took this picture in Florence. There were these two boys at the side of the street selling sunglasses. One had a cardboard box folded up, and then he opened it out and turned it into a table. He had an instant shop. Whatever you may think of people selling like this, it cut through all the reeds in a city where we were in the midst of hundreds of shops. It was brilliant and fascinating.

On the rack

I refer to this as the disease of copying. How on earth do you choose from so many titles that look so similar? We've got too much product, and there's a lot of boring stuff going on - not just in clothes and design but in magazines, newspapers and TV. A partly-clothed girl is what you have to have to sell a magazine now. If you took the name off the top of magazine, it would be difficult to differentiate one from another.

Pretty in pink

This is about taking something familiar and changing it with colour. It could be a tweed jacket - clothing you expect to find in country colours, and producing them in red or blue. And not just clothes. Why does the FT stand out? Why don't more papers print on coloured paper? It'll pass on the information equally well, and it will also make your product quirky. You'd have something quite special on your hands. I'd like to see a newspaper in pale blue.

Donkey work

This picture as taken in Egypt, and I used it for the front of the invitation card to one of my shows. People get so much junk mail nowadays that you have to produce an image that they're going to notice, that makes you smile or is a bit cute. It's got more chance of being pinned on to a fashion editor's wall or remembered than a graphic design has. It's just something that makes you think, that's nice, that's special. Irreverence is the key to success these days.

Stork of the town

This is Berwick Street market in Soho. I walked down there the other day looking at all the vegetable stalls, seeing how one tries to make its produce look more appealing than another's. You'd get one very neat stall and one very untidy stall. There were tomatoes without their vines, and tomatoes with vines. And then I came across this stall where the chap selling had cut a zig-zag into a melon and placed a tomato in it. To me that showed imagination and lateral thinking - that there's always a better, more individual way to do things.

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