During a recent visit to the Design Museum, in London I saw the Paul Smith exhibition. The experience profoundly changed my understanding of the fashion industry, consumer culture and status seeking. This post argues that fashion has moved into a new postmodern era beyond traditional conceptualisations of pre-fordism and post-fordism (Scott, 2006) in the fashion industry.

Take a look at the pictures below, which I took when I visited the design museum. They show the influence of culture and place on the Paul Smith designs:

Chinese inspired jacket
Chinese inspired jacket
British inspired dress
British inspired design
Vietnamese shirt collar & pattern
Vietnamese shirt collar & pattern

Paul Smith has always been a keen traveller, claiming that he takes his camera everywhere with him. His curiosity and sense of adventure is at the heart of everything Paul Smith, the company does. Paul Smith designers are masters of taking colours and patterns from one part of the world (often the developing world) and bringing it to the other. This combined with Paul’s own grounding in the UK fashion industry has led to a brand which is a hybrid of designs inspired by different places. In that sense we can consider the work of Paul Smith to be the result of various networked connections between different places, cultures and identities, perhaps even ideologies.

Paul Smith has always favoured vibrant colours and risque designs often inspired by cultures of the Orient or Far East. So why do the mature markets where Paul Smith sells the majority of it’s clothes buy into the brand?

The answer is in the psychology of the consumer. The modern consumer is individualistic and wants to stand out from the crowd (Featherstone, 2007). What’s more they don’t just buy into what Paul Smith creates but rather they buy into the story behind each creation. Each garment presents the opportunity for the individual to become part of the Paul Smith story, one of excitement, international travel and creative mastery.

Ironically of course this process of buying individualistic or statement garments is becoming so common place that the aspiration of individuality is mainstream and self defeating.  The era often referred to as ‘post fordism’ (Scott, 2006) is over and in its place is a new era where counter culture is acceptable, standing out is the norm and traditions are there to be broken.

Paul Smith as a company has arguably encouraged and contributed to this paradigm shift in the mind of the consumer. As a brand Paul Smith is willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. The colours have got more garish and the design more mesmerising as the line which divides mainstream from individual has become increasingly blurred in the new era.

The picture below was taken at the exhibition. It features a piece from a collection which Paul called ‘out of the ordinary’

Pink suit
Pink suited man in Africa

The above picture adds further evidence that cultural capital as understood by Featherstone (2007); Bourdieu (1986) has changed fundamentally. Postmodernism has created a new class of people who seek to go beyond mere individuality into the more extreme and avant-garde expressions of individuality. Greater emphasis must be put on Veblenian accounts of status seeking such as (Schor, 2007) in order to further understand this trend in the fashion industry.


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education241, 258.Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. Sage.

Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. Sage.

Schor, J. B. (2007). In defense of consumer critique: Revisiting the consumption debates of the twentieth century. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science611(1), 16-30.

Scott, A. J. (2006). Entrepreneurship, innovation and industrial development: geography and the creative field revisited. Small business economics26(1), 1-24.


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