How Yves Saint Laurent inspired Paul Smith to show his love

In our book Paul describes commissioning perhaps the last, genuine YSL tuxedo for his supportive, loving wife
Pauline Smith wearing her Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent. Courtesy and copyright © Paul Smith. As reproduced in Paul Smith
Pauline Smith wearing her Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent. Courtesy and copyright © Paul Smith. As reproduced in Paul Smith

Paul Smith is known all over the world for beautiful clothes that draw on a wide range of contemporary influences, while remaining distinctly British. 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.

Some relate back to his early career in the Midlands of England; others tie into his international success, as his work spread through the world, delighting followers of fashion in North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. However, one particular inclusion stands as a very personal tribute to his partner in life and business, Pauline Smith. 

Paul Smith. Courtesy and copyright © Paul Smith
Paul Smith. Courtesy and copyright © Paul Smith

“I owe so much to my wife, Pauline. Without her, none of this would have happened,” he writes in our new book. “She studied fashion at the Royal College of Art in London and came to Nottingham as a part-time tutor at the School of Art and Design. It was from her that I learned about the importance of quality, cut and proportion, and came to an understanding of how clothes are made.

At the Royal College they were still dealing primarily with couture, not ready-to-wear, and Pauline’s training was very much about how to cut a pattern, what a dart did, what pad-stitching did, the importance of how you put a shoulder pad in, the pitch of the sleeve, the proportion of the pocket. So, when we started living together, the conversation was very different from what it could have been. Ready-to-wear was blossoming, and a lot of other people were doing quite extreme, experimental things."

A spread from Paul Smith
A spread from Paul Smith

Indeed, Pauline’s career actually opened a few doors in the wider fashion business. “I was privileged to go with Pauline to Paris when she took her students to couture shows,” Paul goes on to explain. “She taught me the key elements of the business of fashion and encouraged me to set up on my own. I think our company has survived because it’s always had the sound foundation of the standards that I absorbed from her right at the beginning.”

How could Sir Paul express his appreciation for such lifelong support? With clothes of course, but not any old clothes. “Many years later, when Yves Saint Laurent announced that he was stopping couture, I said I’d like to get Pauline one of his couture tuxedos from the year we met, because he was the one who created that kind of trouser suit for women in the 1960s – it was known as Le Smoking, and it created a bit of a scandal at the time.

Paul Smith

So, we went to Paris and had it made, with two fittings: it might have been the last, or the next to last, tuxedo that Yves ever made. We wanted the 1967 design, because that’s the year we met, but he thought the 1966 model would be good for Pauline. So, they remade that one. In 2002, we were invited to a dinner in Paris with Yves, his partner Pierre Bergé – who was a good customer of our shop on the boulevard Raspail – and his original muses. That was an absolute privilege.”

To see further archive images of both Paul and Pauline, as well as a great deal more besides, order a copy of our book Paul Smith here.



Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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