Matthew Mumford, Head of Creative for Paul Smith
There are few style and fashion brands that have their whole aesthetic more finely honed and immediately identifiable than Paul Smith. Since 2020, as Head of Creative for the brand, Matthew Mumford has borne a lot of the responsibility for maintaining that perception on everything from art directing videos and photoshoots to curating the artworks seen in Paul Smith stores.
Then again, Matthew’s previous experience probably made him uniquely qualified for the job. After leaving the London College of Fashion in 2012, where he studied fashion photography, he worked as Brand Manager for Sunspel, did two stints with British fashion label J. W. Anderson, and art directed for Calvin Klein in Amsterdam, immediately before taking on Paul Smith.
Matthew very kindly sat down to answer our questions about his life in fashion and design.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
In hindsight, but when I was a kid I actually wanted to be a theatre director. Unfortunately, I had no talent for it. I sort of stumbled on fashion as I got older. I was always interested in clothing and fashion imagery but never considered it could be a job. It wasn’t until I went to college and studied photography that it occurred to me people actually got paid to do this. It’s different now with social media, but when I was kid the industry felt a lot less accessible.
Did you want to be a fashion designer, or was photography your first love?
At times I’ve thought being a designer would be great. But photography was my real first love. Bringing all the different elements together, the fashion, the casting, photographer, set, etc. is what really excites me creatively. The power of imagery to convince people to do things, whether it’s to buy something or vote for a politician or protest for social change is really something. I know that sounds a bit cliché, and maybe even a bit manipulative, but the way it connects to the human condition and emotions is fascinating. I don’t get the same buzz from design.
How did you first break into the world you work in now?
I was actually super lucky. When I was living in halls I made friends with a couple of people who were interning for Jonathan Anderson. At the time he had just launched his brand, but I got to know him and sort of accidentally ended up working for him. It was such a privilege to be involved with a brand that grew and developed like JW Anderson did. I got to learn and absorb so much from that experience and the talent that was around me. It also really helped me focus what I wanted to do. The nature of a small brand meant I was involved in everything from sales to creative, exposing me to all the facets of the industry and allowing me to discover the path I’m now on.
Who influenced you to embark on the path you’re on?
That’s a tricky one. I’m not sure any one person influenced me. I suppose it was more the allure and glamour of the fashion industry with a drive and ambition to be ‘successful’ that influenced me more. I’m sure there are countless people that influenced me along the way. I should have kept a diary.
How did the opportunity come about to work with Paul Smith?
Again, it was luck. A good friend of mine recommended me. I met with the team at Paul Smith and Paul himself and the rest is history. I think it was meant to be.
How do you describe your job? And what does the average day look like?
I always struggle with this question when family members ask me what I do and can’t quite understand that I don’t work in a store as a retail associate. I guess the core of my job is to protect and develop the energy and personality of the brand. Conveying that with content that engages customers and ultimately makes them purchase.
I’d love to say my average day is spent being creative, but the reality is it’s mainly spreadsheets, meetings, approvals, and team management. I’m a big believer in collaboration and think having a clear structure and a friendly environment creates space for everyone to be creative and bring their best. In that way my job is facilitating other people’s talent in order to realise the vision. Everyone needs to feel invested in the project for it to be successful, so my day-to-day is focused on creating that space so when we are on set or at the show we can get on with what we need to do, enjoy it, and be proud of the end result.
What’s most important when looking at creative design for a clothing brand?
It sounds simple, but simplicity is always the hardest thing to do well. For a brand like Paul Smith, which has such a rich and varied history, it’s about channelling its core personality and making sure everything we do serves that. I am a believer in design for a purpose, with the challenge being how do you create something that looks good and functions well. If you can nail that, then the rest is dressing.
Do you have any advice for someone with ambitions to work in fashion and design?
The fashion industry has been totally upended with social media, and the traditional entry points are less and less essential. That’s not to say education, internships, and all that don’t count, but I think companies are looking for new talent from new places. So my advice is to nurture your talent whatever way you can, work hard, constantly ask questions, and not be afraid to get things wrong.
I also really believe there is a time and a place, there’s such a pressure to achieve as early as possible, but some of the greats and icons of our industry weren’t who they were at 22. So, give yourself the time, grow at your own pace, and trust the process (credit to whoever I’ve plagiarised that from).
What are your favourite places to eat, drink and shop in London?
Paul Smith aside? I’m actually really terrible at all these things. I’m one of those that relies on a friend to take me to the new hot restaurant or bar. Quite honestly, the coffee shop near where I live (Giddy Up, Fortune Park) is probably my most visited. Oh, and Issey Miyake.
What are you most looking forward to in the near future?
I try to stay focused on the now. I’ve learnt that if I get too excited about a project it typically falls through. There are some really fun things coming up at Paul Smith which I’m eager to get my teeth into, so watch this space.
In the meantime, taking some time off over Christmas and spending time with family and friends. Nurture the soul.
Can we work together on a lovely creative collaboration Matthew? I say this in jest as our last question, but we’d love that!
Of course I’d love that.