It’s not every day that a successful global fashion brand allows itself and its message to be interpreted by someone from outside the company. But that’s exactly what Paul Smith has done with a wonderfully weird new book, created by James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks, otherwise known as Rottingdean Bazaar.
“The starting point was to create visual stories around Paul Smith from our viewpoint,” the inimitable design duo tells us. “We tried to do that by focusing on human beings, environments and objects.” The end product, a book simply titled Paul Smith by Rottingdean Bazaar, was launched last week at Dover Street Market, to mark the start of Photo London, and it’s full of beautiful and beautifully surreal shoots, crafted by James and Luke, with Ben Reardon acting as editor-in-chief for the project.
One shoot in the book sees the children from the Nottingham Television Workshop drama school, wearing Paul Smith SS19 finery as their costumes. “We’ve worked with young people before but never so many all at once on a shoot,” say Rottingdean Bazaar. It was, they say, “a good kind of mayhem”.
Another feature was shot by one of Rottingdean Bazaar’s favourite collaborators, Annie Collinge. This shoot placed the famous Paul Smith stripes on a series of curious objects – everything from a set of dentures to a broken egg shell. “Annie often comes to stay on our sofa in Rottingdean to work on images,” the duo tells It’s Nice That. “We usually go about it in a kind of Blue Peter way – just the three of us and very lo-fi. We photographed them in James’ mum’s house in Rottingdean.” This shoot also saw James and Luke don a pair of cardboard boxes and become cobbled-together, living room shelving units for Paul Smith goods.
Arguably the pièce de résistance of the book, however, is a series of portraits of people from around the country called either Paul or Paula Smith, a series shot by another frequent collaborator, Lucy Alex Mac. James and Luke describe the casting for this, which was conducted by Danielle Emerson, a “Herculean task” – but the result was worth the effort. “We’ve been trying to work with a vicar in a fashion context for a couple of years,” say Rottingdean Bazaar. “It was a dream come true to make that happen here. And the Reverend Paul Smith was brilliant. He told us that ‘every clergyman is a failed actor.’”
For Paul Smith (the real Paul Smith, that is), the whole process has been pleasantly carefree. When asked how much back and forth there was, he says, “Very little! I really did leave them to it.” The initial starting point for him was to represent the new Spring/Summer collection “in an interesting and creative format”, but the idea quickly grew: “One shoot became two, which became three and so on and so forth! I wanted to give James and Luke as much freedom as possible to interpret the clothes in whatever way they wanted to.”
That creative freedom is easy to spot – flicking through the book, you don’t get any sense that the brand or the designer himself put many, if any, strictures on the work or worried about ceding control to the duo. “I’ve been known over the years for my playfulness, light-heartedness and not taking myself too seriously,” says Paul. “The Rottingdean Bazaar approach is very much in this spirit, it’s playful and intriguing and fits perfectly with the way I like to think about things. They make things seem very effortless and easy, but the amount of consideration and thought that goes into everything they do is really incredible.”