Signed, sealed and delivered: Paul Smith’s stamp collection

by Danielle Demetriou

Special To The Japan Times

His creations are more commonly found paraded on fashion catwalks or on hangers in boutiques around the world.

However, the British designer Sir Paul Smith is not a man to be confined by genre, as reflected in his latest creative endeavor — a collection of stamps.

A series of seven stamps have been designed for the Isle of Man Post Office by Smith to mark this summer’s London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Currently on display at the Paul Smith Space Gallery in Tokyo’s Aoyama district, the exhibited stamps are encircled by dozens of flags of the nations competing at the Olympics, lining the surrounding walls.

Each of the designs is devoted to a competitive sport — archery, road-bike cycling, swimming, tennis, track race, sailing and rowing — and they are accompanied in the gallery by close-up detail shots in tinted photography.

The stamps — small, square and made of paper — clearly inhabit a different dimension from Smith’s iconic fashion creations. But upon closer inspection, his signature style can be gleaned from the graphic designs’ clean, bold lines, stripes and circles. The harmonious color palette, too, give them a mix of early vintage Olympian with the modern.

There is the light turquoise water of the swimming pool, with red, white and indigo-blue lines; the perfectly spherical tennis ball against a striped lawn of grassy greens; the circular lines of the archer’s bull’s-eye target; and the clean lines of the rear wheel of a bicycle set against the swerve of the track.

“l looked at posters and artwork from previous Olympics and realized I wanted the stamps to be positive, powerful, colorful and, above all, optimistic,” said Smith in a recent interview.

The apparent simplicity of the diminutive designs, however, belies a string of challenges posed by the fact that stamp design is strictly governed by rules and regulations.

“Actually the job was quite huge and I worked on the project for about a year,” he explained. “Because stamps are governed by law, you have to incorporate certain things: the Queen’s head in certain size, the Olympic logo, the price. And then, in addition to those restrains (rules), stamps are very collectable, so I had to design gift sets and collectors’ items.”

The stamps were clearly a labor of love for the designer who has also provided, to accompany the exhibited works, a text describing his childhood passion for cycling.

“My life changed at the age of 11 when my father bought me a pale blue Paramount racing bike,” he explained, before adding, with reference to the upcoming Olympics, “The new London (cycling) track looks amazing. I imagine it will be a very fast surface and also provide a great atmosphere for the audience.”

“Stamps by Paul Smith Studio” at the Paul Smith Space Gallery runs till May 27; open 12 p.m.-8 p.m. Free Entry. Closed Wed. www.paulsmith.co.uk/paul-smith-world/space-gallery/stamps-exhibition