Maharam and Paul Smith's collaborative journey in textile design
British fashion designer Paul Smith approached Maharam in 2002 after seeing I Morosi alla Finestra exhibited at the Gio Ponti retrospective at the Design Museum in London. Attracted by the whimsy of the textile pattern designed by Gio Ponti in 1930, Smith proposed using I Morosi as a lining in his men’s jackets. Soon after, he adopted various Maharam archival textiles for shoes, hats and bags.
Having provided textiles to be used in the Paul Smith collection, Maharam invited the fashion designer to join a cadre of collaborators, including Andrée Putman, Hella Jongerius and Bruce Mau, and to focus his wit on the world of upholstery textiles. Referencing Paul Smith’s light-hearted take on traditional British tailoring, the 2003 introduction of Bespoke Stripe by Paul Smith marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the fashion designer and the Maharam Design Studio.
For nearly two decades, the relationship between Paul Smith and Maharam has grown to include nearly forty designs for application as upholstery, wallcovering, and Maharam Digital Projects along with collaborative projects, such as a partnership with Carl Hansen & Søn to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Hans J. Wegner’s birth. Paul Smith personally selected his favourite Wegner pieces, including the iconic Shell, Wishbone and Wing chairs, and upholstered them with Big Stripe and Stripes by Paul Smith for a limited-edition release. For a recent collaboration with Herman Miller, Paul Smith reimagined a collection of mid-century seating designed by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Ward Bennett with his own tailored, whimsical patterns.
When asked the secret behind the enduring creative exchange between Paul Smith and Maharam, Mary Murphy, Maharam’s Senior Vice President of Design, explained, “He’s just so exuberant, and he’s always got all these ideas going on constantly… I think he represents design being who you are; it’s not a career for him, it’s his life.”
According to Paul Smith: “I’ve been designing furniture fabric with Maharam for many years and I’m delighted that it’s been so well-received. It’s used in theatres, in cinemas and by a lot of famous design companies all over the world. I’m delighted to be able to choose furniture to apply the fabric onto.”
Building on eighteen years of collaboration between Maharam and Paul Smith, the arrival of the latest upholstery collaborations of Songbird and Wool Check demonstrate Paul Smith’s ability to modernise traditional references through imaginative applications of scale and colour.
Songbird is a spirited departure from Smith’s signature stripe. Beginning with a study of English botanical motifs from Smith’s personal collection, Songbird depicts a highly animated assortment of perched and singing finches within an arrangement of lilies, peonies and hibiscus. A senior member of the Maharam Design Studio synthesised the study as a hand-drawn pattern and that was specially woven to create the illusion of three dimensions. Graphic lines of alternating matte and lustrous yarns lend movement to the silhouetted fauna,
Wool Check takes a modern approach to traditional applications of plaid and is a return to Paul Smith’s signature exploration of colour. Guided by intricate tonal gradation, an expansive repeat of large-scale colour blocking emulates one of Smith’s designs for apparel, while emphasising painterly transitions between highly specialised tones such as rose, carob, petal, mulch and ginger within a single colourway. Wool Check is woven by a specialised resource in the United Kingdom, and makes use of rich woollen spun yarns, resulting in a rustic, warmly textured cloth that reinforces the pattern’s tailored origins.
Images of Paul Smith by Nick Ballon