Sir Paul Smith has long held an affinity for San Francisco, certainly since his hippie days when he would travel to the City by the Bay to sample the music scene around the Haight-Ashbury district.
This story first appeared in the March 4, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Since then, the designer built a fashion empire with stores in such cities as London, Paris, Milan, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Next Monday, Smith’s first freestanding store in San Francisco is scheduled to open its doors at 46-50 Geary Street.
“We have the two stores in New York and one in Los Angeles, so this was a natural number four,” the Nottingham, England, native said. “Although San Francisco is a huge city, it has more of a village feel to it. I suppose it’s because it’s located on hills and has trams and various little areas, which feel very homey. It’s probably a bit like London in a way, a bit more hilly and more foggy.”
Smith said he was particularly attracted to the location’s proximity to the city’s iconic Union Square, as well as the actual building he was able to secure.
“If you came to London as a visitor, you would easily know certain areas like Chelsea, Covent Garden, Bond Street or the King’s Road,” he said. “Union Square is obviously [the area] visitors know. It was the building that attracted me to the street. It’s a 1950s facade that is very graphic. I suppose you call it an English football goalpost…a cheerful optimistic series of pinks and reds.”
The interior space, at over 4,000 square feet, was designed by Smith and his team, who took many of their cues from the architectural character of the building, which runs from Geary Street through to Maiden Lane. Smith created a series of smaller rooms for various departments, and each has a different feel. The shoe and accessories room, for instance, is inspired by American designers like Karl Springer, Donald Judd and Paul Evans, and features mounted color panels, and chairs and stools by the Pace Collection. The suit room, meanwhile, has original mahogany panels by Pottier and Stymus Co., which were taken from a 19th-century bank. It also features mid-century Vaclav Trefil paintings and a late 19th-century table with dragons on its legs. At the Maiden Lane entrance, visitors will find a selection of Smith’s art collection and a large illuminated globe.
“I actually really hate the idea of the corporate rollout, and so many of the shops around the world, which have a similar appearance,” Smith said. “All my shops have their own character. Inside, as with the New York shop and the Paris shop, it’s a series of rooms, and a bit of an adventure. We are also selling books and objects, some old antique pieces and some new pieces, as well as the entire collection for men and women.”
Smith is planning an opening party on April 2. The company declined to give sales projections for the store, and the designer said that while plans for this store were made long before the global financial meltdown, he never had any second thoughts about opening.
“We started it before [the downturn], but that doesn’t mean we are not still confident about it,” he said. “We are sure that it will be a slow start, but we are a very solid company. We wanted to have a shop in San Francisco, so we are delighted to have it. I think people in San Francisco will just be pleased to find a shop, which has a very happy and lively spirit. It’s a shop that gives you a nice feeling when you walk in. We need that at the moment, don’t we?”