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Graphic Design

Sir Paul Smith

Posted by Alex Bec,

It’s no secret that London’s Design Museum put on brilliant shows. It also won’t come as a shock to you that 15 of London’s top creative minds answering an open brief asking what they would ‘give back to London’ has led to some interesting work. What you might find surprising however, is that is sitting on these design pedestals aren’t simply self-righteous, egotistical practitioners, but in fact a group of people with a real love for our capital. I spoke with one of the most influential among them (and a real hero of mine), Sir Paul Smith. A humble, sincere and hugely inspiring man who shed some light on why he designed a rabbit shaped litter bin…

Sir Paul, you’re famed for your belief that you can find inspiration in anything, is that why you’ve decided to produce something a little out of the ordinary for the show?

Well this exhibition to in my head was very much asking the question “What do you like and what don’t you like about London”. There are lots of things that I like – the parks, museums, cross culture, but as for what I didn’t like it was more difficult. Rubbish is something I don’t like so I thought, why not do a litter bin?

The thing is that litter bins are already out there, but noone’s done a litter bin that’s a little irreverent. So if I make a five foot green bunny with ears that light up when you put the litter in – they might notice it! I was hoping that if it was a rabbit, it might encourage children to use it. Everyone loves pressing buttons at the Science Museum or at traffic lights. I thought it might become a bit of a game and then they might prefer to put their litter in a bin rather than on the floor…

So how different is the process of designing a suit jacket to a bin?

Well the actual idea was very quick! I feel a bit embarassed in a way because so much of the work here is so intellectual, political and complicated and mine is so simple. On the other hand though I think people can indentify with it very easily – people just get it.

Do you think that’s what London lacks a little bit – that openness and spontaneity?

Well, the thing is I’ve never been intellectual and don’t always understand the convoluted way people discuss and present things – I like to fast track things because I think that’s more the way of the modern world.

Also, it’s funny what people remember! Let’s say your mum has done lots of lovely things for you over the years, but then once she stood on your toe – that’s what you remember! Those are like punctuation marks in your life that stick in your mind. For example my bright pink shop in L.A has been great, everyone loves it! People use it as a point of reference and meeting point because everyone can find it! I like to do things that have that “I get it” factor.

You could argue though that the idea of quickness of communication is a bigger idea than a long winded, intellectual concept?

Well yes, sometimes I think it is. I’m very spontaneous, my work comes from the heart and the head. When I first started as a designer you didn’t consider marketing plans or what other designers were doing or your competitors. You just looked at what was in your head and your heart and thought “OK, that’s what I’ll do”.

I know you’re not from London, how would you piece differ if it was for Nottingham where you started out?

Well I’d probably just do the same thing! It’s the right colour because it looks like Robin Hood. Maybe I’d give it a bow and arrow, green tights and a pointy hat?!

Was it quite easy to do a piece based around London, despite not growing up there?

To be honest once I got the brief I understood it and had the idea really quickly. Also I’ve got a huge rabbit collection, in the early 80s I foolishly said that rabbits bought me good luck and now I get lots sent to me. I think i have about 80 boxes in my warehouse in Nottingham.

What’s next for Paul Smith? More rabbits or more clothes?

Well they do breed don’t they?! We’ve just opened a really nice shop in San Francisco… Also a very cute shop in Paris that’s opened in a building that’s been empty for 30 years and I’ve not done anything to the shop at all. It doesn’t even have my name written on the front…

I remember a few years ago listening to an interview with Van Morrison and the interviewer asking him about the meaning behind his track ‘Astral Weeks’, and he just said, “I don’t know it just came into my head!” That’s what it’s a bit like with me – just shoot from the hip.

I think that honesty and sincerity is absolutely imperative to your work and why you’re such an inspiration not only to us, but such a huge amount of people all over the world…

Well I think you have to realise that there’s a lot of stuff going on out there, and you need to have a point. Think about your mum stepping on your toe, she probably never did but you know what I’m saying…

Super Contemporary runs until 4 October at The Design Museum and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD

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Posted by Alex Bec

Alex is one of the directors of It’s Nice That who now oversees our sister creative agency INT Works. For several years he oversaw the Monday Morning Music Video feature until it came to an end in 2014.

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