Paul Smith has just opened his first Berlin store, and it wouldn’t be Paul Smith (or Berlin) if the store and its location were just ordinary.
Sir Paul Smith is a British designer of extraordinary fashion for men, women, children, and accessories. He has been for some 40 years, and in various collaborations he designs pretty much anything that can be designed. In an interview, he recently described himself as a ‘strange designer’. A few weeks ago, he opened his first small but nonetheless great Paul Smith store in Berlin.
Classic British Style With a Twist
First and foremost, Paul Smith is a collector of all the things. Had he not become a fashion designer, he would probably be a curator or artist. When I visited my first Paul Smith store, on London’s Floral Street in the early nineties, it was an extraordinary new experience. Classic British fashion ‘with a twist’ was the intention, and it was indeed perfectly realised. I remember cuff links from old typewriter keys, brightly colored stripes everywhere, along with Hawaiian shirts under pinstriped suits. And the plethora of accessories that make the product world of Paul Smith so rich. I wouldn’t have minded buying the store empty right then and there.
A Store Between Brothels and Greengrocers
And now, Paul Smith has finally opened his first Berlin store. Of course, his collections are also listed in department stores and boutiques in the German capital – but Paul Smith had been searching for an alternative location to open his own store for a while. The popular retail quarters in Berlin Mitte or City West were simply too commonplace. He found his luck off the High Streets, on Potsdamer Straße, tucked away in the Tiergarten district. The store is surrounded by a mix of galleries, Turkish greengrocers, and brothels. It can be found just a few steps away from the legendary (and still existing) red-light district frequented by Christiane F. in the seventies.
Just 70 square meters suffice Paul Smith to create his own realm in 3.5 million metropolis Berlin. He took over the former shop of devotional dealer Ave Maria, which holds cult status in the west of Berlin and has now moved just around the corner. Paul Smith originally wanted to preserve the walls and ceiling of the store’s main room, painted with postmodern religious frescoes. But as it turned out, the previous occupier re-painted (of sorts) shortly before the store was handed over. This roughly retouched history of place now decorates the store and forms part of what makes it special, and that’s exactly how it should stay.
A Constantly Changing Universe
It quickly becomes clear that the Paul Smith store Berlin is about much more than simply selling textiles. Its value lies in personal dialogue. If you make your way around to these parts, you are not looking for a flagship store but for proximity to the designer. And that expectation is met meticulously, as the store feels like Sir Paul could be stepping out of the back office at any moment.
Everything is purchasable here, the store resembles a gallery full of carefully curated and unexpected items. It doesn’t exaggerate the Paul Smith brand, nor is the brand arrogantly placed on a pedestal. Instead, it forms integral part of a product universe that seems to be ever-changing.
The most beautiful thing? The humour. Many details are testimony to a tongue-in-cheek, grotesquely quoted tradition (not only) of Great Britain, quirky abstractions of classical clichés, and even a little anarchy. You can feel the designer’s passion for art, graphics, sports and music. Buying an item could almost feel like tearing it out of its perfect surroundings, but on the other hand, will only make space for new creative arrangements. For on the next visit, the store may yet again look very differently. Nothing is fixed, anything goes, and everything has the power to inspire.
Branding at Paul Smith Means Variety
Name a global brand of your choice with hundreds of stores around the world: in retail, that brand will likely present itself as highly scaleable. In the process, a brand risks caricaturing itself by becoming overly self-impressed. When the highest goal becomes to stand above the competition, a particularly humourless narcissism is not far off.
At Paul Smith, none of this is noticeable at all. His branding lies in the variety, the element of surprise, and the personal exchange. This little shop in a former no-go area in Berlin represents the opposite of an international brand store. It is a brave invitation to the personal world of a great designer who is so much more than just a designer.
About the Author:
Alexander spent quite some time talking to staff on his visit to the Paul Smith store in Berlin. They had questions for him, and he for them! Feel free to get in touch with Alexander via e-mail or connect with him on LinkedIn. Read more of his work here.