Guest Editor: Paul Smith | icon 054 | December 2007

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Documents... Paul Smith

I walk a lot, and I’m always noticing random things. London’s a wonderful place for that. This photo essay follows a route I picked. It’s not exactly a secret London, just one I like to keep noticing.

Portrait Mark Guthrie

19 Denmark Street, 7.30pm

As a man who lived in a provincial town, things like the NME and Melody Maker were my lifeline for information. This is the roof of 19 Denmark Street, which is where Melody Maker started and where the Stones cut their first album. With the guitar shops underneath and Melody Maker above, Denmark Street was the centre of the universe. I’ve always been close to the music industry. At 18 I started coming to London in my little Morris Minor to see bands. In those days I was working in a clothes store, but I was also silkscreen printing stuff myself – ties and T-shirts and things – to earn petrol money to come to London. Quite important bands would play in a pub or university union – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who. After the gig I used to go up and say, “I really enjoyed the gig, do you want to buy a T-shirt?” I’m still friends with some of these guys. I used to sleep on a floor in Powis Terrace in Notting Hill, and I’d walk home at 4am.

The Phoenix Garden, 1pm
I love the idea of hidden gardens. Covent Garden is such a busy place, and then there’s this little community garden off St Giles Passage. It was a bomb site and now it’s a place where people can go and eat their sandwiches and have tranquility. In Tokyo, Kenzo Tange moved the site of his Park Hyatt hotel just so the sun could still hit a garden that was always used by workers. I think gardens are underestimated in busy cities.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 9pm
As somebody who loves architecture and engineering and wonders how things are built or survive, this is pretty impressive. It was built for a purpose, whereas today things are built by celebrity architects to enhance a city when the purpose isn’t defined. This tunnel, which runs under the Thames at the Isle of Dogs, has 200,000 white tiles. I happen to like white glazed tiles because where I come from, in Nottingham, they used to put them between buildings. The tunnel appeared in the sleeve notes for The Who’s album Quadrophenia.

Watts Memorial, 3pm
This is so charming, and something that should happen more. It’s a memorial in a churchyard in Aldersgate commissioned in 1900 by the painter George Frederick Watts. It’s for everyday heroes. We’re so flippant about what goes on in the world. We all think we should watch the news but it’s always so horrifying that we feel like we have to switch it off. What we need to draw attention to are the things ordinary people do for each other. I keep thinking we need a happy news channel.

Post office, Royal Automobile Club, 2.30pm
It’s an extraordinary idea, the private post offices. They’ve just announced they’re closing 3,000 post offices, and then there’s this one in a private members’ club. It’s so sad that so many of the rural post offices are being closed down, because they’re a lifeline for people in the countryside. Our local one in Nottinghamshire is in a private house, and I’ll pop in just to buy a lottery ticket. For some people it’s the only conversation they have.

Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, 9am
This building has amazing proportions. There’s a really steep staircase and enormously tall, thin doors, and the floors are movable as well. It was created for painting theatre scenery. It’s a little gem, and Paul the owner has a lot of exhibitions that are youth related, like this guy, Phil Frost, who’s now quite collectable.

Criterion Restaurant, 9.30am
This is a real surprise, a restaurant with a grand Byzantine-style interior in the middle of Piccadilly’s tourist heaven. An indicator of times gone by.

Holland Park, 8am
I always go to Holland Park before my fashion shows so I can see a rabbit, because rabbits are good luck for me. If you see a tall person in fashion week holding 84 carrots, you know it’s Paul Smith.

Brompton Oratory, 3pm
My wife Pauline goes to church here every Sunday, and we got married here. It’s a beautiful church, very traditional – two Latin masses on a Sunday. It’s stuck by its ways, which is delightful in this changing world. But there’s something else, that the boss, Father Ignatius, told me a story about. It used to be a dead drop for Soviet agents. They’d leave notes and film for each other in particular spots – next to a statue or behind a column.

Ear, Floral Street, 11.30am

This artist, Tim Fishlock, has put these ears all over London for no reason at all, obviously based on the “walls have ears” joke. This one’s on the same street as our shop. It’s what I love: just doing things because. We’ve got one of his pieces in our shop, which is two plugs that only connect to each other.

Coat hook, Great Newport Street, 1pm

This is mad. Policemen used to wear cloaks, and here’s a place where they could hang them. I love the fact it’s got a sign on it – YOU can’t hang a cloak there, oh no. One day I had my smart camel coat on when I was waiting here and a woman came along and gave me 10p. She must have thought I was a tramp. Of course I took it.

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