An Apple iMac, as featured in Paul Smith. Photography by Matthew Donaldson
An Apple iMac, as featured in Paul Smith. Photography by Matthew Donaldson

How Jony Ive inspired Paul Smith to be curious

The tech designer met Smith before joining Apple, and the two have remained mutual admirers ever since

Paul Smith is known all over the world for his beautifully designed clothes that recall classic couture and tailoring, while also taking in newer, less conventional influences. Indeed, his sources of inspiration aren’t limited to the clothes rails; our new book Paul Smith, features 50 highly personal objects selected by the great man that, in Smith’s own accompanying words, chart his and his brand’s half century of  struggle and success, from a small menswear concern in Nottingham, UK, through to a globally recognised international fashion house.

While a few choices, such as a beautifully simple linen prover - a small microscope for counting the threads in linen fabrics - confirm the designer’s deep understanding of textiles and trade. But other choices show just how widely his eye ranges. 

Paul Smith. Courtesy and copyright © Paul Smith

In the book’s introduction the world-famous product designer, Jony Ive, describes the thrill he felt on seeing one of his earliest Apple creations displayed in in the windows of Paul Smith’s Floral Street shop in London. “As the head of design at Apple, a company that had just teetered on the brink of going out of business, I was never more encouraged or affirmed,” Ive writes.

That candy-coloured desktop may have gone out of production, but Smith still picked one for his new book, as it reminds him of Ive’s greatest qualities.

“When I first met industrial designer Jonathan Ive, he was still working at a design studio in Soho,” writes Smith in his new book. “Then he got a job at Apple and went on to design the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and many other devices that became part of our daily lives. Jony is a very gentle person with a great curiosity about things, and we became good friends. When I met his father I recognized the same sort of workshop mentality that my own father had, and I could see where Jony’s skill and passion had come from.

Paul Smith
Paul Smith

“That’s probably one of the reasons we get on so well. In 1998 he gave me a brand-new translucent green Apple iMac G3 – the one that looked like a gumdrop – and I displayed it in the window of the Floral Street shop. People walking through Covent Garden would look in the window of a clothes shop and see this green object that looked like a little spaceship, with its screen blinking. I think it was in the window of No. 43, which was a more traditional shop in its look and feel, rather than No. 44, which was much more minimalist and modern feeling.

"We often exploited the lovely contrast between the old mahogany shop interior, which had come from a Gloucestershire tailor’s shop, and a modern object in the window – whether it was a new computer or a pen or a pink-and-lilac vacuum cleaner. We sold the Dyson vacuum cleaner in the shop because James Dyson didn’t have a distributor at the time – and we sold quite a lot of them. It was about Paul Smith being a pioneer of selling designed objects alongside clothes, an idea that had started in Byard Lane – the very first shop – in 1970.”

Interestingly, Smith’s admiration for Ive’s early desktop didn’t lead him to become a complete Apple fanatic. “ I don’t use a computer myself, but I’ve never dared to tell Jony that,” he says. “I do use one of the iPhones he designed, though.”

To find out more about a great many of Paul Smith’s favourite things, and the ways in which they have inspired his collections, order a copy of our new Paul Smith book here.