By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) - Eclectic men's fashion designer Paul Smith, suit maker to Prime Minister David Cameron and footballer David Beckham, kick-started the opening of an exhibition of his work by throwing a pair of his signature stripy socks to the world's media.
"I never miss a trick," he joked at the opening news conference as he opened a black bag filled with his latest perfumes, stripy socks and patterned note pads and lobbed them at the audience with gusto.
The quirky 67-year-old, dressed in a navy suit and green and floral patterned shirt, is famous for injecting wry humor into his brand, which spans suits, socks, shirts and ties.
The exhibition, "Hello My Name is Paul Smith", which runs until March, shows how Smith, one of Britain's most successful designers, built up his brand and includes a mock-up of his first store in Nottingham, a replica of his office and a video following him through the process of a fashion show.
It also dedicates a huge gallery to paintings, photographs and drawings he has collected over the years, as well as letters he has received from legions of fans around the world.
"The post everyday is ridiculous. There's some brilliant stuff, very humbling," Smith told Reuters in an interview.
One fan wrote to the designer about her dream to own a Paul Smith dress, which his team made for her in three days, just in time for her 90th birthday.
"They never ask for anything. They don't say I love you, I hate you, I want a job, give me some money or anything, things just come," he added.
Smith said he is particularly fond of a nativity scene made from peanuts from an eight-year old child called Margot in Belgium, who sent him a note with the words "I don't like fashion but I like you". He is also proud of a laser-cut paper model of Smith's office made by a fan in Japan.
"Things arrive all the time, and that's why I think it's become famous because of sheer variety and strange things that arrive - it's weird, we just can't understand how it all happened," he said.
Smith's distinctive personality remains an essential aspect of his fashion empire, which is estimated to be worth more than 300 million pounds ($483 million).
He sells in 72 countries including Japan, where he has more than 200 stores, France, Italy and the United States.
Holding the exhibition is an exciting experience for Smith, who has worked in the fashion industry for more than 40 years.
"It's very exciting, very humbling, and it's scary because obviously it's coming together of things from the past and things from the present," Smith said.
Focusing on the designer's origins and inspirations, visitors can explore a replica of his office, which is filled with random objects like a giant rabbit-shaped doormat, a "Snoopy" telephone and a lime-green bike.
The designer hopes the exhibition will serve as inspiration to young designers or those working in the creative industry.
"I am hoping that it is encouraging for them, that anybody can walk through and by the time they leave, just think 'wow, that's interesting' because from a small humble beginning you can actually progress nicely," he said. ($1 = 0.6215 British pounds)
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones)