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Paul Smith exhibition highlights the designer’s humble beginnings

Paul Smith

Most fashion exhibitions are retrospectives of a designer’s works made over their career, with mannequins donning some of the most glamorous pieces in beautifully decorated rooms.

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Yet “Hello, My Name is Paul Smith,” which is now open at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in central Seoul, is not your typical retrospective show. While visitors can get a look at the famed British designer’s creations, the exhibition lays bare Smith’s humble origins and his messy studios without a hint of pretension.

“Most fashion exhibitions are just about the clothes, but my exhibition is very honest and it literally shows you how I work and get ideas,” Paul Smith said at a press briefing in Seoul last Wednesday ahead of the exhibition’s launch.

Smith’s exhibition starts with a recreation of his first shop – a tiny, windowless room that spans 9 square meters (96.8 square feet). Smith’s first showroom during Paris fashion week, presented next, is as modest as his first shop. It was set up in a bedroom in a Paris hotel where the bed functioned as a display case, which was all that Smith could afford as a fledgling designer.

“Hello My Name is Paul Smith” is as personal as it gets. The exhibition shares stories about Smith’s beloved pet Afghan hound, and extensively discusses the creative influence that Pauline, Smith’s wife, had on his career. It houses recreations of Smith’s personal office and design studio, down to minute details like the desktop clutter and leftover plates of spaghetti.

The exhibition also offers a comprehensive overview of Smith’s collections and collaborative works with the likes of David Bowie and the Rover Mini. It also displays photographs of Paul Smith shops around the world that Smith and his team have designed themselves.

Seoul is the eleventh stop for “Hello, My Name is Paul Smith,” which has toured the world since showing at London’s Design Museum in 2013. The exhibition has the honor of being one of the most visited shows in the London museum’s history.

“There are very few designers who would allow us to show not just the magic, but how the magic is made,” said Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, who was also present at the Seoul press briefing.

The Seoul Design Foundation invited the exhibition to Korea this year to celebrate DDP’s fifth anniversary, and it’s easy to see why it thought Paul Smith would be a good fit for the occasion. Smith’s hometown of Nottingham, England, holds many parallels with the district of Dongdaemun in that they are both known for textiles and fashion. The architect behind DDP, the late Zaha Hadid, was a fellow British designer whom both Smith and Sudjic were friendly with.

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“The exhibition in this building is really special because both Deyan and myself knew Zaha and respected her work,” Smith said.

“I hope young people from Korea can come and look at it and see you can start in a humble way, and with hard work and patience you can grow your business.”