VANCOUVER — Sir Paul Smith landed here during his ocean-hopping travels on Monday, winging up from Los Angeles via Tokyo. Marking his first visit to Canada since the Eighties, Smith visited the city to see his new shop-in-shop at Holt Renfrew’s Pacific Centre outpost, give interviews, meet the store’s staff and give a speech to 175 customers — before jetting off the same night en route to New York for 12 hours before flying home to London.

This story first appeared in the October 22, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With a worldwide economic perspective given his own retail operations, Smith told WWD that while department store sales have slumped, his signature shops are showing 6 percent gains. “I’ve been buying lots myself with my own card,” he said.

“We haven’t seen the bottom yet,” he cautioned. “There is a complexity we won’t realize until after holiday, into January and February. Wholesale will be impacted come spring for next winter.”

During his speech, Smith pointed to creativity as his distinguishing key to success. That is what he expects to carry his company through these uncertain economic times. “In my shops, we don’t see a decline. We don’t sell just clothes,” he said, pointing out the books, ceramics, vintage vinyl records and accessories that make up his lifestyle stores. “People are fascinated to come in. They don’t know what they will find. I try to make it quirky and each store is individual. There is no formula to roll out around the world. It’s not just about clothes; you have to enhance the presence with alternative things.”

His message to the audience was that creative inspiration is all around. “You can find inspiration everywhere. With today’s fashion world, everyone is following each other. It’s like buying yesterday’s newspaper. One hour after a show, designs are on the Internet and being copied. I don’t look at any one thing in particular for inspiration. I find it in art, music, architecture, travel and humor. I look to a childlike, not childish, approach to work with freshness and continual questioning.”

This method apparently works. Smith reported that his Japanese stores are doing well despite the economy and after an “enormous year prior” and the units in India and Russia are doing “quite well.” A new store in Antwerp, Belgium, is expected to open before the end of the year. And he summed up retailing in typically straightforward style: “The key is to get people to come into the stores.”

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