Catching up with Paul Smith – WWD

NEW YORK Thanks to the pandemic, it has been more than two years since Paul Smith was able to travel to the United States. That meant its New York flagship, which opened in September 2020 on Wooster Street in SoHo, had to be designed remotely from the UK. But with the health crisis easing somewhat, the British designer was finally able to return to the United States 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 store we’ve designed online,” Smith said. “The Greene Street store was more separate rooms, whereas it’s a really open plan. What we found interesting is that a lot of people who don’t necessarily know Paul Smith feel comfortable coming here. It’s very welcoming with the marble stairs and leather railings. They can come in and be curious.

And this increased interest leads to increased sales.

Jeremy Smith, president of Paul Smith North America, said the store was doing better than Greene Street in 2019, before the pandemic hit, “and that’s without tourism fully returning.”

Among the top performers, he said, was apparel, which grew 150% for the entire company in the past year and 7% in 2019.

“During COVID[-19], they said no one would ever wear a suit again,” said Paul Smith, “which I never believed. But people are looking for refinement. They go back to work, get married, go to events. And there is also a big color trend that really resonates with people.

The Paul Smith brand has long been known for its bright colors and upbeat messages, which connect with pandemic-weary audiences. The designer pointed to the preponderance of stripes across the store’s collection, saying he designed a stripe in 1997 for the spring season and thought it would only be for that year. But it’s become so popular that it’s now featured on everything from men’s and women’s clothing to shoes and accessories, and has become a brand signature.

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

Paul Smith in his London studio.
Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

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

Going forward, the company will open additional stores in the United States, “but we don’t have any plans at this time as everything is on hold,” said Paul Smith.

Jeremy Smith added that there was “an appetite for the brand here” and that the company plans to add stores again from next year. This could include a unit in uptown Manhattan, perhaps on Madison Avenue. “We had a great deal with Barneys,” said Jeremy Smith.

The company’s online business has been strong, he said, with sales up 36% from 2019 and 75% from a year ago.

In addition to direct-to-consumer sales, the Paul Smith brand has a successful wholesale business with distribution in 64 countries. This channel has consistently grown 10% globally each season, said Jeremy Smith, “and more in the US”

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

Paul Smith, who celebrated his 50th birthday in 2020, is one of Britain’s most successful independent designers, building a business with sales of over £215m and profits of around £4m. books. And it won’t stop anytime soon. “We feel we have a lot of momentum,” said Jeremy Smith.

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