By  on January 21, 2010

LONDON — Sir Paul Smith may well be London’s most lighthearted designer with Monty Python-like humor and an office that’s a TechniColor curiosity shop, but there’s nothing silly about the way he runs his business. Postwar Britain’s most commercially successful fashion designer, Smith — and his wife Pauline — rank 243rd on The Sunday Times Rich List with a net worth of 230 million pounds, or $368 million at current exchange. Last year, Paul Smith Group Holdings Ltd., which Smith owns with Itochu, his longtime Japanese licensee and minority partner, had sales of 169 million pounds, or $270 million, and profits of 15 million pounds, or $24 million. During the buildup to his fall men’s wear show in Paris on Sunday, Smith, 63, talked about everything from fakes and frauds and canny money management to the psychology of the young Japanese consumer.

WWD: You’ve dubbed the past 10 years “The decade of fake.” Why?
Paul Smith: We live in a Photoshopped world. Back in October, I had an exhibition in Japan where I showed some of my personal [art] collection. One of the photographs is by Spencer Tunick. It’s in Mexico where there are several thousand naked people standing in a square — you can imagine what the organization of that would have been. People would walk into the gallery, come to the photograph and say, “Oh, amazing Photoshop!” I was recently in Antwerp for the evening to celebrate the first anniversary of my shop there; just a little evening that was about nothing more than just saying hello to customers and having a drink. But people were confused. They thought, “There must be a trick.” One customer said to me, “We received the invitation card, but we didn’t think you’d be here. We thought it was just a marketing ploy.” Unfortunately, it’s just so normal now for people not to believe anything and for people to lie about things, and gamble on them, and not be sincere. In a way, sincerity is the new fake because no one even believes you if you are sincere.

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