The olive and orange check suit he was sporting — along with black and white sneakers — summed up Paul Smith’s fall story: The traditional suit is in fighting form.
At a time of crisis for the classic jacket and tie combo, when most young men would rather be wearing a T-shirt or sweatshirt and sneakers, Smith went straight back to his tailoring roots — and to classic British fabrics. He tossed out the heavy stuff and made suits with Millennials in mind.
The designer minted them in an exploded blue and green tartan, in plaids and checks, and with bird and feather linings and embroideries. “Tailoring is what I know really well and it’s nice to show my strengths,” said Smith, who took his bow in a jaunty olive-and-orange windowpane suit.
While the checks and northern English fabrics may have been similar to the ones he used at the start of his career in the mid-Seventies, they’ve come a long way since then.
“When I first started, the fabrics were twice the weight they are today. The suits are made with looser canvases and a softer shoulder pad — wearable for today’s world. You don’t even have to buy them as a suit,” and you wear them with sneakers, rather than brogues, he said.
Even the velvets he used for suits and coats were lighter, “not the curtain fabric” from days past.
He worked his big tartan into long coats and slim suits for men and women and placed a fat red windowpane check onto a gray suit. Other ensembles featured a joyful mismatch of plaids — on shirts, jackets, trousers and ties.
Plaids and checks weren’t the only story: There were colorful Fair Isle sweaters — which also came from Smith’s archive — while bright feathers floated over women’s silk shirts and dresses. Birds with fabulous plumage were embroidered onto denim shirts and jackets, their images taken from a dog-eared 18th-century book from Smith’s studio.
As for the women’s clothes in the designer’s first-ever coed show, they, too, represented a return to Smith’s roots — echoing the men’s silhouettes and styles he is best-known for but in more feminine cuts. “I just went back to why I started women’s in the first place, which was because all these supermodels and famous women were buying my men’s wear,” he said.
After all, Smith, the history boy, knows that — in the right hands — a classic never dies.