MERCI, PARIS: He’s already a British knight and now Sir Paul Smith has another bright badge to display. On Thursday the designer received the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest distinction, during a ceremony at the French residence in Kensington, London.
Sylvie Bermann, the French ambassador to the U.K., bestowed upon Smith the rank of Officier in the Order of the Légion d’honneur, in recognition of his career-long ties with France.
His first shop, which opened in Nottingham in 1970, was called Paul Smith Vêtements pour Hommes — not that he spoke much French at the time — and six years later he showed his first men’s wear collection in Paris.
Since then, he’s been showing in the French capital and has five boutiques there, as well as a French headquarters.
Bermann called Smith “a revolutionary figure in British design whose flair and audacity have left an indelible mark on French fashion.” She added that he is “an inspiration to a whole generation of young designers on both sides of the Channel.”
Smith said he’s had a strong relationship with France, and Paris in particular, for 40 years. “I’ve had 80 fashion shows in Paris, and five shops. Outside of Paris I’ve got strong relationships all over the country. It’s a wonderful honor to receive this accolade. It’s really lovely and very special.”
Smith added that it was a privilege to receive the honor at the French ambassador’s residence in London. “It’s such a beautiful building, and it was brilliant to celebrate with many of my closest friends, many of whom go back as long as forty years, to when I first started showing my men’s collection on the catwalk in Paris.”
The Légion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit.
On average, 10 British nationals each year receive it. There are five ranks in the Order of the Légion d’honneur: Chevalier, Officier, Commandeur, Grand Officier and Grand Croix.