Paul Smith talks music and Ferrari

Paul Smith talks music and Ferrari

One of the UK's greatest designers, Sir Paul Smith is also a huge music lover and fan of anything on wheels, be it two or four…

Words: Nick Mason & Matthew Barker

The Official Ferrari Magazine: You began as a designer in the 1960s. Why was that particular decade so creative, particularly in the UK?

Sir Paul Smith: We were the first generation after the horror of war, so for the first time we could say “I’ll paint the wall pink… I’ll grow my hair long…” Whatever it was, you looked around and there was nobody there to say that you couldn’t. What was so joyous about that whole period was that it was self-expression through creativity.

There was so much going on. [nods to Nick] There were you guys, all these fantastic bands everywhere, and then in my world it was all about suddenly selecting fabrics that would have previously been considered only for women – floral designs with ruffles that you probably hadn’t seen a man wear since the days of Oscar Wilde.

Sir Paul in conversation with Nick Mason <em>Photo: Joe McGorty</em>
Sir Paul in conversation with Nick Mason Photo: Joe McGorty

TOFM: I read that you had ambitions of becoming a professional cyclist.

PS: That was my big dream, but after a bad crash I ended up in hospital for three months. I got quite friendly with some guys in the same ward as me. A couple of them were discharged around the same time as me, and one of them said, ‘Oh, we should keep in touch, we all got on so well,’ and they chose a pub in Nottingham for us to meet up in called the Bell Inn.

By chance, it was where all the art students went. So, suddenly this whole world of creativity opened up. I remember having conversations with some of the students. They were talking about things like the Bauhaus and I just thought it was a council estate near Nottingham or something!

Anyway, luckily for me, one of the students I met at the pub became my girlfriend and then my wife [Pauline]. She studied couture and I got really interested in it all and attended night school. My teacher was an army tailor, making ceremonial uniforms for Trooping the Colour and stuff like that. It was all about how the cut made people look important, how it made you stand up straight and made your legs look slim, just by the way you cut things. That was really helpful. If you have that traditional training you can play around with it.


TOFM: Was it around this time that you saw Pink Floyd play live?

PS: Yes, I used to go to this place called the Boat Club in Nottingham and see all these bands. You could do that in those days, go and see Pink Floyd in this tiny place with only about 150 people standing there. [to Nick] Do you remember playing at the Boat Club?

Nick Mason: I remember that we played Nottingham University…

PS: I definitely saw you there. And I saw Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. When I saw you guys, you arrived very late at night and went straight on stage, I think you were all wearing overcoats.


TOFM: You got to know some musicians quite well.

PS: I got to know Jimmy Page when I was 18. I made him some trousers. I always remember he was a 24-inch waist, but the bottoms were 28 inch. They were like upside-down trousers...

I always used to have a few T-shirts that I’d printed. I remember being at a Yardbirds gig, chatting with the band afterwards, then whipping out these T-shirts from my bag, trying to sell them. But that’s how I got to know Eric Clapton and Jimmy and Pete Townshend.

A 1956 Ferrari 290 MM <em>Photo: RM Sotheby's</em>
A 1956 Ferrari 290 MM Photo: RM Sotheby's

TOFM: Italy’s always been an inspiration for you.

PS: I’ve had a house in Tuscany for more than 30 years. There’s a real passion in Italy that I connect with, a mindset. And I’ve always really loved Ferrari designs. Whenever I’m in London, first thing in the morning I’ll swim in the pool at the Royal Automobile Club, where I’ve been a member for a long time.

At 5am when I’m just arriving for my swim, they’re often bringing these very expensive, very rare and very delicate cars in to be shown at the Club.

Recently I saw them moving the most beautiful 1956 Ferrari Scaglietti Spider through the gates. It’s an amazing piece of engineering. It looks so timeless.