Catching Up With Paul Smith

Paul Smith SoHo

The Paul Smith store on Wooster Street in SoHo. IMAGE COURTESY OF PAUL SMITH

Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been more than two years since Paul Smith has been able to travel to the U.S. That meant that his New York City flagship, which opened in September 2020 on Wooster Street in SoHo, had to be designed remotely from the U.K. But with the health crisis abating somewhat, the British designer was finally able to return to the U.S. to see the store in person.

He liked what he saw.

The 5,000-square-foot unit, which carries the men’s and women’s collections, is more open and inviting than the former location on Greene Street.

“It’s really exciting to see the shop we designed online,” Smith said. “The Greene Street shop was more separate rooms, while this is a really open plan. What we’ve found that’s interesting is that a lot of people that aren’t necessarily familiar with Paul Smith feel comfortable coming here. It’s very welcoming with the marble stairs and leather banisters. They can come in and be inquisitive.”

And that heightened interest is leading to higher sales.

Jeremy Smith, president of Paul Smith North America, said the store is performing better than Greene Street did in 2019, before the pandemic hit, “and that’s without tourism being fully back.”

Among the top performers, he said, has been tailoring, which is up 150 percent for the company as a whole over the last year and 7 percent over 2019.

“During COVID[-19], they said nobody will ever wear a suit again,” Paul Smith said, “which I never believed. But people are looking for refinement. They’re going back to work, getting married, going to events. And there’s also a big trend in color that’s really resonating with people.”

The Paul Smith brand has long been known for its bright colors and upbeat messaging, which is connecting with the pandemic-weary public. The designer pointed to the preponderance of stripes on the collection in the store, saying that he designed a stripe back in 1997 for the spring season and thought it would be just for that one year. But it became so popular that it is now offered on everything from men’s and women’s apparel to footwear and accessories and has become a signature of the label.

Another thing the brand has become known for is its store on Melrose Place in Los Angeles with its Pepto-Bismol pink wall that has become the most Instagrammed building in California with some 400 people a day taking photos of the exterior, he said.

Paul Smith at his studio in London.
Paul Smith at his studio in London. KUBA DABROWSKI/WWD

It has also helped the store, which opened in 2005, be the brand’s highest-volume unit in the States, where the brand now operates seven stores, Jeremy Smith said. During the pandemic, the company opened “neighborhood stores” in Williamsburg in Brooklyn as well as in downtown L.A., which are “doing well,” he said. “There was no tourism and people weren’t traveling, but a local clientele was still coming in.”

Going forward, the company will open additional stores in the States, “but we don’t have plans at the moment because everything’s been on hold,” Paul Smith said.

Jeremy Smith added that there is “an appetite for the brand here” and the company expects to add stores again starting next year. That could include an uptown unit in Manhattan, possibly on Madison Avenue. “We used to have a great business with Barneys,” Jeremy Smith said.

The company’s online business has been strong, he said, with sales up 36 percent over 2019 and 75 percent over last year.

In addition to direct-to-consumer, the Paul Smith brand has a successful wholesale business with distribution in 64 countries. That channel has consistently been growing 10 percent worldwide every season, Jeremy Smith said, “and more in the U.S.”

The designer will fuel that momentum when he returns to the runway during Paris Men’s Fashion Week on June 24.

Paul Smith, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020, is one of Britain’s most successful independent designers, building a business that has sales of more than 215 million pounds and profits of some 4 million pounds. And he’s not stopping anytime soon. “We feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum,” Jeremy Smith said.