Japanese bow to Mr Smith - Business - News - The Independent

Japanese bow to Mr Smith

PAUL SMITH can slip through his shop in Covent Garden virtually unnoticed. If he's spotted in one of his Tokyo stores, chaos ensues. Once the word has spread, people pour in brandishing T-shirts, books, motorcycle helmets - anything for him to sign. These personal appearances help the best-known foreign designer in Japan to shift pounds 4m of goods through his main Tokyo branch alone.

Twenty-five years into his business Smith has probably the most saleable name in British fashion. The UK industry is still tiny, though. Annual sales of British designer clothing are worth pounds 200m. This barely registers against the billions that names such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Armani and Chanel turn over.

Smith's problem is not how to get bigger, however, it is how to maintain personal control over his sprawling fashion empire. America is the obvious prize for any expansionist company, but Smith has already shut a pounds 9m operation there because he did not think licence-holders were using his brand the right way. "I must be mad, but I just stopped it because I did not like it."

While Smith may be little known in his native country, his image and name are household words in Japan. He is now deciding how to capitalise on it. "We will expand," he says. "We are aggressively trying to look at opportunities all the time. But it's not about more and more money - it's about having a great day and enjoying life."

Smith 's arrival in Japan was a low-key affair. He was invited over in 1984 by the Japanese company C Itoh, which was interested in getting a licence to sell his label. "I never went there thinking I was going to have a huge business," he says. "I went there because I was invited and I just thought 'I love this'." There is now a licensed operation of more than 150 shops.

Japan contributes three-quarters of the annual pounds 102m worldwide sales of Paul Smith labels. All the company's lines sell in Japan: the top-end Paul Smith collection, the jeans, Paul Smith for Women, children's wear and the new R Newbold workwear.

Where Smith differs from many foreign designers in Japan is in the personal control he holds over the operation. He is currently on his 39th visit to the country. This week he has been showing his new collection to sales reps and shop managers. There have been seminars on display detailing everything down to how to arrange the socks. All new staff watch a video chronicling his life and setting out company philosophy. He says this way they get real Paul Smith. "I worked very hard at it so every glass they drank out of, every doormat, every coat-hanger I was personally involved with choosing."

Smith sells to Japanese teenagers, executives, arts and media folk - but perhaps most noticeably to the young salary-men. These are the 20- year-olds who come in with their mothers to buy their first business suit. For the novice salary-man with a life of conformity ahead, the Paul Smith image of "classic with a twist" appeals.

Walk into the main Paul Smith shop in Tokyo and you could just as easily be in Covent Garden. The antique wooden fittings are imported from England. There are brass fixtures and soft lights. The only Japanese is written on the fire extinguisher. Old Beano comics, Bakelite radios and snowstorm ornaments vie with pounds 600 suits for expensive floorspace. This quirkiness is a vital part of the carefully controlled image Smith is selling.

At the Nottingham headquarters two of his most avid collectors of junk and ephemera, Art and Leslie Bates, unpack their latest haul. Boxes of old football annuals, coronation souvenirs and plastic flamenco dancers are laid out on trestle tables. Smith is delighted. "We'll take the lot. Football goes down well in Japan, put that down for Tokyo. They love comics, especially the Beano."

Smith admits his company is reliant on its Japanese operation. "In my opinion it's far too weighty towards Japan. We're consciously levelling out now." He is expanding elsewhere in the Far East - Seoul, Singapore, Taipei - and has just opened in Thailand after being surprised when someone told him he already had a shop in Bangkok. He hopes the real thing will keep the pirates at bay.

q The author is the producer of 'Why the Suit Fits', on BBC2's 'Money Programme' at 8:20 tonight.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Payroll & Accounts Assistant

£20 - 24k + Benefits: Guru Careers: This is a great opportunity for an enthusi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Senior BA - Insurance **URGENT**

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week