There are some challenges to covering London Fashion Week for a Midwest America-based magazine (though Pattern is now distributed internationally!). Midwestern readers aren’t as likely to recognize the brand names. Pop and punk British styles are not always appreciated in the Midwest. And perhaps most difficult: many top UK labels are simply not available in the US at all. I am constantly contacting designers asking for updated stocklists and encouraging them to consider partnering with smaller boutiques. The costs for the designer, though, is tremendous. Tariffs paid on imported finished dry goods is significant and puts the American audience out of reach for all but the largest brands.
One who has managed to establish himself fairly well in the US is Paul Smith. With free-standing shops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas as well as select placement in Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodmans department stores, the very British label is surprisingly accessible and well received in the US market. This spring/summer 2014 collection is a very good example of why the brand has been so successful in “jumping the pond.”
Let’s start with the fact that this collection focuses on well tailored casual and business wear. One won’t find a large number of dresses in this collection at all. Instead, what we get are matching separates and pantsuits by the score. The larger number of ensembles coming down the runway would be equally appropriate for the corporate office or a casual lunch with friends, especially if one actually buttons the shirts.
Paul Smith’s palette is understated, but not boring. Instead of limiting himself to earthtones as many UK designers do, Smith finds tasteful applications for pastels such as robin’s egg blue, salmon pink, and sunflower yellow. Yet, he manages to keep them from being so overwhelming that one’s eyes hurt from looking at them. Part of this is in the careful styling that utilizes one’s own skin tone as contrast to the color.
The Paul Smith silhouette is loose and flowing, but not slouchy. Yes, there’s plenty of room in the hips of those pants if you over did it at dinner last night, but not so much but what the look is still professional and well put together.
There is a bit of a sporty side to Paul Smith, with short sets that are just as well tailored as the suits, but more playful, and a little more tight fitting in the hips. Be aware that, as with many British labels this season, Smith’s shorts are indeed very short and just aren’t going to look good if one’s thighs are over sized.
This season, Paul even gives us just a taste of bohemian with a white sheer peasant-style dress as well as a very full and flowing blue/yellow floral print maxi that instantly feels as though one should put flowers in their hair. The print is fun and chock full of summer, but avoids being garish.
Granted, one isn’t likely to find Paul Smith at a discounter. The prices reflect the high cost of doing business in the United States. But then, if one is only shopping discounters, one isn’t exactly all that worried about style or quality, are they? Paul Smith is definitely Midwest America wearable and one that’s worth driving a bit to find.