REVIEW. FOR UNI, TECHNICALLY, BUT ACTUALLY FOR MY OWN PERSONAL JOY.
Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith at the Design Museum
Until: March 9 2014
Part retrospective, part hero-worship, the Design Museum’s ode to Paul Smith has punters queuing along the riverbank during deepest winter. Suzie McCracken finds out how the world-renowned fashion designer earned his multi-coloured stripes.
The Design Museum, unlike its more sombre brother the V&A, is concerned with intrigue and entertainment rather than academia. Enter Paul Smith: the obvious king of both those attributes, and prince of eccentric Englishness to boot.
“Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith” explores the history and character of Smith’s work, using his personal belongings to recreate working environments and put his notable contributions to the world of design on display. It also comes with a side of Smith himself, with cardboard cut-outs of him striking a pose and a giant wall-painted “HELLO” putting a grin on the faces of guests ascending the stairs.
It begins with a three metre square (translation: no cat-swinging here) reconstruction of Smith’s first Nottingham shop, filtering visitors into the main exhibition via a tangible representation of his oft-cited humble beginnings.
The main thoroughfare is an enthralling rogues’ gallery of art from Smith’s collection, featuring celebrity snaps (Noel Fielding adorned in a floral blazer) and twee tokens of affection (doodles of Daleks) donated by outlandish admirers.
There’s a space devoted to a selection of Smith-designed clothing, staged like a sartorial aquarium for contemplating a jacket made from embroidered Afghan blankets. A plethora of his collaborations are displayed with everything from emblazoned Evian bottles to a striped Mini Cooper. The Paris hotel room where Smith sought to sell his first collection – six shirts and two suits – is excellently reimagined in the style of a “Paddington Bear” set, with the two dimensional chandelier hanging above the bed-cum-display area a testament to Donna Loveday’s creative curation.
The stand-out enclave is “Inside Paul’s Head”, a room filled with screens and mirrors that endlessly reflect images of bicycles melting and neon lights flickering. The central monitor displays a kaleidoscopic tunnel of Smith’s hollowed-out head while snippets of audio interviews with the designer are played. The effect is that of being inside a giant zoetrope, and it symbolises Smith’s scatty genius perfectly.
Of course, that room shows nothing of Smith’s designs. The exhibition focuses so much on the man’s magnetism that it can feel like a celebratory cult. The informative titbits on the walls are straight from the horse’s mouth – his copy just awkward enough to make you feel like Smith is following you around the room, whispering quiet insights into your ears. It’s visitor-bait, but who cares when Smith is so damn interesting?