Paul Smith may not have set out to conquer the world — or even Nottingham — when he started his fashion business, but he went much farther than he could ever have dreamed with a cocktail of common sense, charm and a ferocious work ethic.
That formula helped him to expand internationally — especially in Japan — and take an unconventional tack with regard to retail expansion. Unlike most of his competitors, he purchased his stores outright and stuffed them with art, vintage finds and merchandise to sell alongside his branded collections.
Those strategies not only won him fans — and eventually an investor — in Japan, but also helped him to maintain control of the business: He didn’t have to kowtow to landlords or renegotiate rents, and was able to build up a property portfolio that stretches from London across multiple continents.
In Japan, Paul Smith is not just a fashion designer, but a cultural phenomenon and a symbol of a certain kind of British lifestyle.
Smith first started traveling to Japan in 1983, having been invited by a scout who was looking at young designers with the possibility of doing a licensing deal.