Where the runway meets the street

Of all the moments Paul Smith could choose to launch his new diffusion line, PS by Paul Smith, he arguably couldn’t have chosen a more loaded point than the tail end of last year. Yet its roots and the heritage it encompasses stretch back for 40 years.

In the summer of 1976, the unknown British cycling enthusiast-turned budding upcoming designer, Paul Smith, debuted his first ever collection at Paris fashion week. A few months after this, in November, The Sex Pistols released Anarchy in the UK – the legendary album that came to epitomize punk. This singular moment is one of the reasons why the British capital spent the majority of last year commemorating the subculture, the movement, and the mindset of punk through a series of exhibitions and events known as “Punk London.”

Over the last 40 years, Paul Smith has designed and dressed the people that lived through the effects that punk brought on the world: from fashion to music, punk affected the very fabric of modern culture. Those affects are collectively gathered under the broad term of ‘post-punk’ and it’s no accident that this loosely defined term has formed the creative backbone of the new PS by Paul Smith line (Paul Smith’s Mayfair flagship even helped open last summer’s London Collections Men showcasing Derek Ridger’s images from his new photo book, Punk London 1977 – so the affinity runs deep).

Sitting alongside the main Paul Smith collection, PS by Paul Smith wraps up all of the previous different diffusion lines, collections and Paul Smith brands under one roof, channeling and distilling four decades of rebellious spirit into one streamlined brand with a younger, semi-sportswear led ethos.

PS by Paul Smith’s SS17 collection references travel, wanderlust and exploration as key themes. Whereas PS by Paul Smith’s inaugural FW16 collection led with technical sportswear and athleticism (whether tracksuit technical or collegiate jersey), athletic stripes now sit alongside colorful, tropical prints. Motifs are either repeated on pieces bold and central or hidden and secretive through surprise detailing. Outerwear is a highlight for the PS by Paul Smith’s second season, with the line strengthening Paul Smith’s ties to Japan with its own take on the classic souvenir jacket.

However, post-punk continues to run through the line as a general anchor, while Paul Smith’s reputation for sharp tailoring shines through but in more a relaxed guise. Jackets therefore appear unstructured, shirting is light and cut straight, boxy and loose, while trousers are tailored to give off a subtle sportswear vibe.

Of course, the effect that punk had on the world of fashion is still being felt today. Fueled by an individualist spirit, it championed personal expression and style against stifling normality and blandness. It has become one of the aesthetic anchors of modern menswear, and which makes PS by Paul Smith feel both current and relevant while still being easily traceable to the past.

But a key sub-cultural signifier of everything that has happened after punk is the ease in which tropes, ideas and looks are borrowed across different subcultural movements. In a sense, the choice of London designer Fergus Purcell to design the new PS logo fits easily with the character of the new Paul Smith line.

Purcell’s skating background and the attitude that that gives him slots in perfectly with Paul Smith’s own maverick ethos. “I don’t really think that anything, in terms of a visual, belongs to anyone,” commented Purcell in a recent interview on these same pages in sentences that best sum up punk, post-punk, and the overall menswear climate that PS by Paul Smith is now helping to shape. “It’s all up for grabs to be played with.”

The SS17 collection is available now online and at the new PS by Paul Smith stores, including in London’s Beak Street, Soho, and Langley Court in Covent Garden.

Deep dive into the new PS by Paul Smith collection here, or see the designer introduce his Mayfair flagship store in our exclusive film with writer and directer Paul Black, shot in 2014.

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