Graham Smith - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



British milliner

Born: Bexley, Kent, 19 January 1938. Education: Studied at Bromley College of Art, 1956-57, and the Royal College of Art, London, 1958-59. Career: Worked for Lanvin, Paris, 1958-59; milliner, Michael of Carlos Place, London, 1960-67; own firm established, 1967-81, and from 1991; consultant design director, Kangol Limited, 1981-91; created hat collection for BHS stores, 1990s. Address: 22 Crawford Street, London W1H 1PJ, England.

Publications

On SMITH:

Books

McDowell, Colin, Hats: Status, Style, Glamour, London, 1992.

Articles

"Haute Hats," in Cosmopolitan (London), November 1986.

Rowe, Gillian, "Heads He Wins," in You magazine of the Mail on Sunday (London), 6 November 1988.

Fallon, James, "Storehouse to Sell BHS Clothing Again," in WWD, 28 March 2000.

***

Graham Smith is a milliner's milliner; one examines his hats and finds outstanding craftmanship. These featherweight pieces appear untouched by human hand; no irregularities mar the sheen of the fine straw crowns, and snow-white felts remain pristine after the rigorous hand-blocking which sets them irrevocably into shape. Invisibly-stitched brims and seemingly effortless draping belie hours of painstaking handwork for which there is no substitute if one requires the genuine article.

Nor does Smith's work exhibit technical mastery alone—to walk into his showroom is to be amazed and amused by the combination of color, texture, and shape, and by the witty inventiveness of the trims. Smith's shows during the decade of his design directorship of Kangol were stunning parades of the milliner's art and a gift to fashion editors, whether the chosen theme followed a traditional floral path, swooped up into outer space or dived to the bed of a tropical ocean. The staid Kangol beret suddenly emerged as a hot fashion item, whether studded, colored or trimmed whimsically with buttons.

Smith left London's Royal College of Art early to work in Paris with Lanvin. After returning to work with Michael, the English couture house, he ran his own business off Bond Street, which soon attracted a distinguished clientéle. Royalty and media stars have worn his hats; every leading London store carries them. He has worked with many leading designers, amongst them Zandra Rhodes and Jean Muir, and has often designed for the screen—notably for Help, The Ruling Class, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and the Bondish face, Casino Royale.

Smith hats have also literally traveled the world, adorning the heads of British Airways flight attendants. Additionally, his work is represented in the permanent collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and has been photographed for Pirelli calendars by Norman Parkinson. To use an inelegant term for an elegant man, Smith might be termed a workaholic; given the time, one could well imagine he would prefer to do all his own work. Of this he would certainly be more than capable, and he is an exacting master—which does not deter his loyal staff, some of whom have worked with him for decades. His wit and entertaining teaching style have endeared him to many fashion students during his time as millinery tutor on the degree course at Kingston Polytechnic.

Graham Smith has thrived on design talent and technical excellence, running a successful business through years when hats were far from obligatory as high fashion accessories. As hats wax and wane in importance, Smith's faithful clients continue to wear his creations in the knowledge that they are simply of the highest possible quality; and to reach these heights there are no short cuts.

—Alan J. Flux

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