Speaker: Paul Smith (Standard British accent):
Sir Paul Smith, the designer and retailer, was recently at the Milan Furniture Fair, where he was a guest of the “The British Design Embassy.” For this he decorated a room at the Villa Reale and it was here that he met with a group of journalists. During the conference he talked about the decline of Britain’s manufacturing base. At the end we asked him whether - as someone who had grown up in an industrial town like Nottingham - he was sad about this::
The gentleman’s asking about the lack of manufacturing skill in our country, in Britain, and it is…. incredibly sad, yeah. And a lot of it in the 1970s period was to do with complacency, in my opinion. It was a period where… I mean, if you look at the… the horror of the… wars, the great world wars… as we came into the ‘60s, there was a tremendous energy came into London because it was the second generation of people that were allowed to suddenly just do their own thing. And so in London we got the… the Swinging… Swinging London, we got The Beatles, we got The Rolling Stones, we got Mods, we got fantastic graphic design and a great energy, but in a lot of the countryside… country, apart from London, there was this thing that we’d… we’d got through the horror of war and that we… we were British and we produced beautiful fabric or great clothes and, of course, places like Japan were really down and were just passionate about doing well in the world and so, where we were more calm and relaxed and thinking we were doing well, lots of people were making a bigger effort. And one fine example is the motor… motorbike industry. In Japan they invented the moped, as it was called, a little scooter for running around town, and, you know, we had AJS, Norton, Triumph, many fantastic bike companies, and, unfortunately, they didn’t realise that was happening around the world and they eventually closed down and the only one that’s really existing now is Triumph which is, luckily, seeing a revival. And then, in terms of my industry, the fabric… the fabric companies, in Yorkshire especially, were not reinventing, not reinvesting in machinery and not being flexible, there were still dinosaurs producing lots and lots of the same navy blue or gray fabric, and in the meantime places like Biella near to Turin in Italy, the textile industry there, were really becoming very innovative and flexible and modern… became more modern. So, sadly, we lost a lot of our manufacturing during that time. And, of course, then, as we got into the Thatcher era, she… she was promoting service industries a lot more, saying the future was a lot more with service industries, and that was another nail in the coffin of manufacturing, but in fact a lot of it was blamed on cheap manufacturing from different countries, but in fact, in my opinion, a lot… some of it was that, but a lot of it was the fact that we didn’t keep up. And for sure, all of you, as writers, and me as a designer, you’ve got to keep up, you’ve got to reinvent yourself, you’ve got to think about tomorrow. As soon as put your back in the chair, you think you’re great, because you’ve been on the television, you’ve been on the front cover of a magazine, that’s exactly when somebody overtakes you in the fast lane and you’re going to go down. So, if you’re in the design industry of any sort, or the magazine, or writing, industry, do it 100 per cent, or retire. That was a gloomy note to finish on, wasn’t it, really?!
(Paul Smith was talking to Mark Worden, among others)