Looking up !
by Paul Smith
Fashion designer Paul Smith creates a colorful, upbeat world shaped by his inquiring eye. Each month, he shares his vision of things. Today, it’s about “looking up!”
In a world filled with images, where people spend so much time staring at the screens on their laptops, tablets and smartphones, and where everyone is a shoot-and-delete photographer, sometimes I wonder whether we’ve lost the art of looking. Really looking, I mean. But in my job that’s still where the inspiration comes from.
My father was a very enthusiastic amateur photographer and I was 11 years old when I was given my first camera. I was lucky enough to be taught by him and his friends at the local camera club in an era when you had to concentrate and compose your shot carefully in the viewfinder, because you weren’t going to see the result until the film was developed. Over the years, that approach trained my eye not just to look but to see.There are all sorts of ways of looking that can give you a better appreciation of the world around you. Looking up is one of them. It’s something you do naturally when you’re in Notre-Dame in Paris, for instance, or admiring the elegant metal-framed skylight above the bar of a hotel in Milan, but it’s worth making a habit of no matter where you are. On Oxford Street in London, for instance, the view at ground level could hardly be more unattractive, thanks to the endless parade of souvenir shops and fast-food outlets serving more than 200 million people a year.
Raise your eyes, however, and you might notice something worth seeing. For instance: mounted high up on the wall of the John Lewis department store, there’s a wonderful piece of public art. Installed in 1963, it’s a sculpture in aluminum and steel by the great artist Barbara Hepworth, titled Winged Figure. A few hundred meters along the street, by contrast, above the busy corner with Tottenham Court Road, there’s a faded sign on a wall recently revealed by demolition work. It was painted on brick to advertise the presence of an Italian café called Veglio & Co, established in 1854. The café is long gone, but the sign survives as a reminder of the way immigrants enriched London’s life more than a century and a half ago. So wherever you are, however drab the view at street level might be, just try looking up.
Sir Paul Smith dreamed of longer runways than those found in the fashion world: a bicycle buff, he wanted to become a racing cyclist, but an accident put an end to that. Present today in 70 countries, the designer (born in Beeston in 1946) sets a tone—but not the rules— subscribing to the motto “think global, act local.
© Paul Smith - Jean-Michel Tixier/Talkie Walkie