How Christo and Jeanne-Claude inspired Paul Smith to believe in the unbelievable
The art duo’s audacious, site-specific works left a big impression on the British designer, as he explains in our new book
Paul Smith is known all over the world for his classic with a twist clothing. However, his influences aren’t limited to the apparel aisles; our new book Paul Smith, features 50 highly personal objects selected by the great man that, in Smith’s own accompanying words, chart the man and the brand’s half century of success, from a small menswear concern in Nottingham, UK, through to a globally recognised international fashion house.
Some of these things - such as a set of dominoes or a Filofax - could fit in your jacket pocket or (brightly coloured) purse. Others are a little more substantial; take for example Paul’s photo of the wrapped Reichstag by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
This huge, beautiful, site-specific work was finally executed in 1995, after years of negotation between the German authorities and this singular artist couple, and it’s this incredible working relationship that truly charmed Smith.
“I’m a huge fan of Christo, the Bulgarian-born environmental artist, and of Jeanne-Claude, his wife,” writes Smith in his new book. “They were very much a team. They’d met in 1958 and lived and collaborated for half a century on the amazing artworks that appeared under his name alone until 1994, when joint credit was given.”
“I know a lot of people who really dislike what he’s done and don’t think it should be called art, but for me it’s all about the freedom to do things you wouldn’t imagine you could or should do. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are famous for wrapping things. We all wrap Christmas and birthday presents, and because I visit Japan a lot I’m very used to the beautiful way in which the Japanese do wrapping. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped things you wouldn’t expect to be wrapped. I visited several of them, including the Reichstag in Berlin; the Pont Neuf in Paris; and an installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with free-hanging saffron-coloured fabric panels in New York’s Central Park, which took twenty-six years from the initial proposal until it was opened in 2005.
“As it happens, I’ve never been a fan of conceptual art. In the building where I work, the sheer number of ideas that emerge every day is phenomenal – but for me the joy is in turning one of those ideas into reality. For the conceptual artist, the idea is the art. But with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, there’s more to it than that. You also have to consider the hundreds of applications for permission and all the meetings with mayors and local-government bureaucrats and environmental officers that they had to go through.
"And on top of that, being self-financing through selling artworks and drawings – because of course you can’t sell the Reichstag or a bridge over the Seine, even gift-wrapped. I try to push the people who work with me into thinking in different ways, whether it’s designing a jacket or finding an unusual location for a fashion show, because everything today seems to be so much like the product of a business plan, and so clichéd. The joy of Christo is that he just came up with an idea that was unbelievable and yet managed to achieve it.”
To see many more of Paul Smith’s favourite things, as well as countless, personal tributes from Paul’s friends and admirers such as Jamie Oliver, Peter Saville and Jony Ive, order a copy of Paul Smith here.