Paul Smith's strength and signature is menswear. It's no coincidence that his best women's offerings are those that stick close to his boys' suiting and booting. Women have been enamoured with stylish cross-dressing since the thirties, and Sir Paul does it much better than most.
Autumn/Winter 2012 was a vintage offering. Imagine a pipe-chomping old boy, a school-tied gentleman-club dweller. In fact, just imagine his wardrobe splayed out across his daughter. That was Smith's take for winter. She was clad in everything from his Harris tweed overcoat in heathery shades of green and violet through his checked country estate shooting garb to his silk smoking-jacket. There were even nods to his pyjamas - they've been something of a bubbling undercurrent for three seasons now, and Smith put his own spin on them in tie silks or minutely-matched windowpane-check wool. There were shades of Gertrude Stein in those, and in the distinctly mannish flat loafers, best in tortoiseshell patent. For old fogies, these looked terribly new.
It was a shame that Smith seemed to lose his nerve partway through, and offer something for the lady of the manor alongside the lord. The striped silk cocktail dresses with puffy skirts and black dresses banded with white collar and cuffs didn't raise the heart-rate, even if they came with transparent chiffon across cleavage and arms. All that tweed somehow manage to seem much more seductive in its stuffiness, and more subversive too. Dangling librarian chains on pince-nez were the crowning touch of irony. Hip to be square.