A seat pillar by Campagnolo, as featured in our Paul Smith book
A seat pillar by Campagnolo, as featured in our Paul Smith book

How a boyhood bike purchase inspired Paul Smith to find beauty in the details

In our book Paul describes how a teenage cycle upgrade led him to appreciate simple design finesse

Paul Smith is known all over the world for his beautifully tailored clothes that recall classic couture and design, while also taking in many other, less conventional influences. Indeed, his sources of inspiration aren’t a simple laundry list; 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. Most inclusions in the book relate to his professional life, but a few date back his great passion prior to making clothes - cycling.

 Paul in Onomichi, Japan. In 2015 he collaborated with cycling hotel Onomichi U2 to create a capsule collection of cycling apparel and accessories. Photo by Shinji Kono
Paul in Onomichi, Japan. In 2015 he collaborated with cycling hotel Onomichi U2 to create a capsule collection of cycling apparel and accessories. Photo by Shinji Kono

“It was through my bike that I came across the idea that even quite ordinary things have to be designed and can be beautiful,” he explains in our new book. “It was the Campagnolo seat pillar that stuck in my mind. I remember buying it at a time when anything to do with Campagnolo was exciting. My original bike had quite basic components: gears, brakes, handlebars and so on. But one of the good things about a bike is that you can improve it a piece at a time. When you’re fourteen or fifteen, that means saving your pocket money or the money from your birthday and Christmas and then going to spend it at the local bike shop.

“Campagnolo made the components used by most of the riders in the Tour de France. They were a small company in Vicenza, in northeastern Italy, and anything with their name on it was exciting. It was what you aimed for. I remember buying the seat pillar and putting it into the bike and realizing that it had a ridge on it, and when I ran my nail along it I could feel how beautifully it had been made. Not only could you see the perfect sense of proportion in the design and the finesse and precision in the details, but you could actually feel them too. And when you bought something made by Campagnolo, it came in a cardboard box with the name written on it in this beautiful script.

Paul Smith
Paul Smith

“After I’d taken the component out and put it on the bike, I’d save the box because it was so nice. Then, to go with the seat pillar, you’d buy a Brooks leather saddle – and the fashionable thing was to replace the original copper rivets with ones that you could bash with a hammer so as to flatten the ends and make them bigger. Nothing to do with going faster – just pure style.”

What cyclist or aesthete among us can't help but fall in love with that dedication to style (and the desire to be a bit different)? For further, lovely examples of the stylisitic influences that made Sir Paul unique get a copy of our Paul Smith book here.