Fashion designer Sir Paul Smith is every bit as well-known in Japan as he is in his native East Midlands. He has more than 200 stores in Japan where it seems they can’t get enough of his distinctive designs.
He also has stores in New York, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Milan, St Petersburg and Red Square in Moscow – all part of a business worth £300.
At the age of 16, with no career plans or qualifications, Paul Smith was propelled by his father into a menial job at a local warehouse in Nottingham where he lived. Ambitions to become a racing cyclist were crushed following a bad accident and so, inspired by conversations with students at the local art college, he moved into the world of fashion.
After managing a boutique, he poured his modest savings into a shop. At the same time he took evening classes in tailoring and enlisted the help of his then girlfriend Pauline Denyer (now Lady Smith).
That was in 1970. Now, 39 years later Paul Smith, aged 61, is a global fashion icon. He has 12 different collections wholesaled in 35 countries around the world, including 14 shops in England.
His Japanese licensee, Itochu, bought a 40 per cent stake in the brand in 2006. Overall sales worldwide total more than £265 million.
Sir Paul continues to play an active part in the company, being both designer and chairman. He also takes a detailed interest in the Japanese business, designing the clothes, choosing the fabrics and approving shop locations.
Last year he was awarded an honorary Fellowship of RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects.