London Life Shops Exhibitions

Gumi Chan at Paul Smith

February 3, 2014

Happy Monday. Hasn’t the weather been glorious in London over the weekend? What a change some sun can make. I popped into Paul Smith No.9 Albemarle Street to check out the UK’s first Gumi Chan exhibition that opened a few days ago. I had read about it on Sir Paul’s blog and armed with my camera, I hit the Mayfair store.

My regular readers will know of my admiration and love for ‘everything’ Sir Paul Smith and if you haven’t yet visited his superb exhibition at the Design Museum, do yourself a huge favour and go. Check out my review of it here.

Ok, back to Gumi Chan. Well, let’s start at the beginning. If you want to see inspiring talent, established talent, great mini exhibitions, always look out for what’s on at Paul Smith No.9 Albermarle Street. Sir Paul has got the best eye for raw talent, emerging talent and there’s always something interesting happening there. Needless to say it’s obviously worth a visit just to see and be inspired by the shop decor, fittings, the much sought after Paul Smith collections and the very nice staff.

Japanese artist and doll-maker Kazumi Akao, working alongside production and scene designer Nobuhiko Yoshimitsu created a street scene of Japan 1960’s entitled: Gumi Chan. Every item in the street scene has been lovingly hand-crafted in Japan, down to the finest details. Obsessed with miniatures I had to go and see it for myself.

When I arrived, a member of staff immediately took me to the spot and started telling me about the project. Kazumi, disillusioned with what’s going on in modern Japan,

“feels that Japanese people have lost their habitual happy spirit. The Japan of 1961 was a place of hope, it was a time of optimism, with the economy undergoing huge growth and people beginning to dream of creating a better society. Everyone helped one another, and shared a common bond. Kazumi dreams of re-creating this happy time of neighbourliness and co-operation.”

Kazumi, using her own childhood as inspiration, has been constructing Japanese surburbia in 1961 with her Gumi Chan creations. Sir Paul was struck by Kazumi’s art and offered to exhibit the artist’s work. With Sir Paul’s long history of visiting and working with Japan, Kazumi was inspired to add a Paul Smith shop into her Gumi Chan street scene. How cool is that?

As I was clicking away, listening to excited customers laughing, shopping and generally admiring everything they saw I heard a familiar voice ask me: ‘Do you know what that fellow in the tall red tower is doing?’ I turned around to greet Sir Paul and off he was excitedly explaining to me what was what in the street scene.

Meet Sir Paul Smith.


In 1960s Japan, dwellings/houses/shops were built out of wood, so fire men stood in these large fire towers keeping an eye on everything!

Fireman in large Fire Tower.


An overview of the street scene.

Detail of part of the street scene.

The Meat & Deli shop.

Sir Paul tells me that the reason for the Japanese lettering of ‘Smith’ (below on the shop sign) containing the same symbols (3rd from last and last), is that the ‘Sm’ and ‘th’ have the same pronunciation in the Japanese language.

A young Paul Smith with his bicycle in front of his shop.

The Cinema. The red child figurine here is 6 years old Gumi Chan.

Detail of the Cinema.

The Restaurant.

Detail of a child figurine outside the Restaurant.

Side view of Green Grocer with a dwelling above.

Front view of Green Grocer with a dwelling above (left) and kiosk/toyshop (right)

Green Grocer. Think the owner had a bad day!

Detail of customer figurine outside Green Grocer.

Detail of crate of vegetables outside Green Grocer.

Mother and child figurine outside Kiosk/Toyshop.

Detail of products sold in Kiosk/Toyshop.

Aren’t the details just incredible? I wish I could have spent longer and taken even more photographs. I want to thank Sir Paul and a his staff for allowing me to be in the way on what was a rather busy Saturday. The shop was heaving, Sir Paul was going around talking to customers, students, chatting and inspiring everyone. He’s like a magnet and creates a most wonderful atmosphere. Shoppers nearby were busy buying shoes, some guys had just come in wanting to buy a wedding suit.

I loved Kazumi’s work and there was so much fantastic detail in the 3 meters miniature display, featuring 30 figurines. The re-creation of a community spirit couldn’t be more befitting in a Paul Smith shop! There was a real community feeling while I was visiting and so it’s only appropriate that the UK’s first Gumi Chan exhibition is being held there.

The exhibition runs from 27th January 2014 – 27th February 2014

Paul Smith No. 9 Albemarle Street
9 Albemarle Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7493 4565

On a personal note: I was very saddened to hear of the death of Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead yesterday in his New York apartment at the age of 46. He was one of my all time favourite actors and the World has lost a great talent! R.I.P

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Mel February 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Tina, oh my I have a big grin on my face that you met Paul Smith! I remember the review well of the exhibition and I have to say that it was that that drew me to your blog…! To hear that he supports emerging artists just makes him so cool. Thanks for sharing this with us on the other side of the world. Mel xx (p.s. not sure if you received an email from me?)

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Thanks Mel. Always a highlight to be around Sir Paul. I can’t wait to re-visit the exhibition at the Design Museum. This time it’ll be just for me, no camera, maybe a wee little sketchbook in hand.

      Yes, thank you, Received your email and will respond today xx

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey February 3, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Well I am delighted that you met ‘Sir Paul’ on Saturday (it makes me smile that you refer to him in this way). Seriously though, it must have been a thrill! Very cool indeed.

    And I love that exhibition. It’s amazing and the premise on which it’s based is so apt for today’s world. In a way it reminds me of a Monocle illustration. And the grumpy green grocer is fab!

    Great pics from you and some wonderful close ups. I especially love the cinema details.

    Thanks for sharing this. It only makes me want to go to Japan even more!

    And I agree with what you say about Philip Seymour Hoffman 🙁


    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      Hahaha. You know me to be very respectful:-)

      Yes, the exhibition is great! I knew you’d love it and so up your street (excuse the pun).
      I was also reminded of the Monocle community street illustrations, but this 3D miniature street scene is gorgeous.
      I wanted to get closer and touch the figurines but actually, the shop was busy and I was a little in the way. (in gangway between 2 sections of the shop)

      You know how kind people are so when they saw me point my camera at something they’d wait for me to take the shot… I couldn’t possibly have stayed any longer!

      Isn’t the grumpy green grocer the best???? Love him!

      Yes, was chuffed with some pics and some close ups. Lighting tricky as it was very bright but artificial! Of course, I’m such a sucker for the graphics and all the little packagings:-)

      I also so want to go to Japan…. very high on my list!

      Thanks G and yes, still upset about PSH xx

  • Reply Lisa@TheDecorGirl February 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Love it. All the expressive faces are wonderful, they tell a delightful story. What a fun exhibit and meeting Sir Paul Smith – thrilling. 🙂

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Lisa, it’s a 3M display but I could have stayed hours to look at every single detail!

      Yes, you’re right, storytelling at it’s best!! Thank you.

  • Reply Anya Jensen February 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Wonderful – I adore Paul Smith – he is really something special. And yes how sad it was to loose Philip Seymour Hoffman – a magnificent talent. Happy Monday Tina,

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks Anya. I bet your girls would like the exhibition.

      Very sad about Philip Seymour Hoffman xx

  • Reply caroline @trend-daily February 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    How completely wonderful-I really must take the kids to see this. I agree Tina-everything in miniature is just so fascinating and how wonderful that the man himself still engages with his customers in this way. Great article and photos lovely and so nice that you met ‘Sir Paul’! xx Thank you for telling us all about it-I hope you are planning your own London city guide (maps and all)… would be a huge seller xxx

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      Do Caroline, they’ll enjoy it.

      I’m a little obsessed with Miniatures:-) and yes, Paul Smith is and has always been so down to earth. That, IMO, makes him so approachable, fun and engaging.

      Hahaha, I will let you know when I plan my London City Guide (s)… thanks honey xx

  • Reply Igor February 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Oh my!! This is so cute and happy, Tina!! I have never heard of Gumi Chan before but I absolutely adore these little figurines! I have a very playful twist in my soul and love all the little figurines from Kinder Surprise:-)

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      Yes, both to cute and happy!

      Errr, not sure I would compare these figurines to the Kinder Surprise ones, but I know what you mean:-)
      Anyway, it’s best to always stay playful, whatever our age! Thanks Igor.

  • Reply Toni @ Skandivis February 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    How amazingly lucky to meet “Sir Paul”! As you know I’m a huge fan of him too! Can you believe that it’s two years ago since we went to his talk at the V&A? Toni x

    • Reply tina February 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Well, yes, it definitely added to the spirit of it all. There was the young Paul Smith in front of his shop and the real, older Paul Smith IN his shop:-)

      Also he told me that his miniature shop wasn’t doing so well:-)) Ah, that must have been because in 1961 no one yet knew of Paul Smith as he opened his first shop in 1970.
      I also read on the artists website that Sir Paul chose his own fabrics to be displayed in the miniature shop. A true collaboration!

      Gosh, that would have been in May 2012…… think we were the oldest people there as it was geared towards fashion students:-)) x

      • Reply Toni @ Skandivis February 4, 2014 at 9:44 am

        Don’t know about you but I felt right at home 😉 x

        • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm

          Hahahaha. Me too, but it still makes me chuckle!

  • Reply Catherine@farmhousehome February 4, 2014 at 12:08 am

    I’m in awe of the Japanese attention to detail. Shame Gumi Chan feels the japanese have lost their habitual happy spirit. I know when I was there a few years ago the people were very weighed down by the Fukushima power plant disaster and feeling they had to start speaking up about nuclear power even though it wasn’t in their nature to do so. This street scene is wonderful and makes you feel so happy. Yes the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is so sad and tragic, drug addiction is an evil thing.

    • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Isn’t it? That’s exactly what I love about it… and why I wanted to show details!

      I think you’re right and with the recession and power plant disaster there is obviously much to consider. Of course, another malaise is that with the rise of technology and more and more people living in cities, there’s a lack of community spirit. It’s happening everywhere!

      As someone who exclusively shops in Farmers Markets or small independent shops I can see the difference. People care about each other and shop owners protect their little area and help each other out. It’s really slow living and I need it being in such a vast city as London and doing all the ‘other stuff’ too.

      Just can’t believe he was clean for 23 years, relapsed and couldn’t come off it…. tragic!
      Thanks Catherine x

  • Reply Judith February 4, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Wonderful, both that you met Sir Paul and the exhibition! How could you stop taking pictures of all these many many details?! This breaths kindness & playfulness in any possible way, just like Sir Paul himself. Thanks for showing us around Tina!

    • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Hahaha. Yes, agreed, double whammy… lucky me!

      Believe me, I was in there as long as I could be without being a complete pain:-) I wish I could have photographed for hours but hey ho, I think I’ve captured the essence and can look back at it whenever I wish!
      Oh, there was 1 detail I couldn’t quite get to… in the Kiosk/Toyshop, on the far right side.. there was a man selling cigarettes on a separate counter. I did take one photograph of it but unfortunately it didn’t come out as I must have moved the camera to let someone pass through..

      Glad you enjoyed it and I agree it’s full of “kindness & playfulness, just what we like, right?
      Pleasure Judith x

  • Reply Liza Hirst February 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Oh, this is wonderful! We’ll be over there as soon as possible.
    (Guess we won’t be as lucky as you meeting Sir Paul though…)
    Thanks so much for the beautiful photos and your captivating writing about the exhibition!

    • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      I can see that this is totally up your street. You should definitely try and catch this before it ends… you never know, you might be lucky and see Sir Paul or maybe you’ll bump into me when I return for a second helping, this time with NO camera… oh well, maybe my iPhone camera:-))

      You are very welcome. Thanks Liza

  • Reply Carole Poirot February 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    That’s just completely fabulous and amazing. I love the attention to the tiniest detail, even the different facial expressions. To add the Paul Smith shop to the scene is such a great touch and how cool for you to meet the man himself! Lucky, lucky you 🙂

    • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      Hello Ms Carole!

      It’s wonderful, right? Maybe you can visit and look for yourself.. an outing with the Mons?
      Of course, the Paul Smith shop is just the icing on the cake. I love that they depicted a young PS as he would have been in the 60’s, a bicycle and that PS himself chose the fabrics of the shirts in the window display. Also LOVED the little detail about the shop sign being in English and Japanese!!

      Thanks Carole x

  • Reply Michaela February 4, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    So glad you got to meet Mr Smith!! How cool is that – I’m very impressed. I love your photography on this post – you really do manage to get across the feel of the exhibits (which I’m guessing are very, very small) – particularly love the child eating a biscuit – gorgeous! xx

    • Reply tina February 4, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Ha. Love it. Yes, Mr Smith.. great!

      Aww, thanks Pargy:-) LOVE that child… was one of my fav, together with the grumpy green grocer xx

  • Reply Louise - 30s Magazine February 5, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Wow you lucky woman! Meeting the man himself, how cool is that! I read about the exhibition on other blogs as well but your photos are totally different, love that!

    • Reply tina February 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Aww, what a sweet thing to say.. thank you!

  • Reply Doris February 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    This is so wonderful Tina! I’m going to plan to go and see the exhibition for myself. I absolutely adore these miniatures and the detail that’s gone into them are just incredible what a talented artist. What a lovely surprise for you to also meet Paul Smith! You’ll have to tell me all about it next time we meet. xD

    • Reply tina February 6, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Oh, I hope you will Doris. You won’t be disappointed and if you haven’t seen the new shop (extension) it’s worth it just for that.
      Beautifully designed with great touches. Look out for the Domino walls:-) x

  • Reply Kazumi Akao February 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for coming and introducing my exhibition “Gumi chan”.

  • Reply tina February 16, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    You are so very welcome. It would have been nice to meet you , but you had already left back home.

    Thank you for your talent and for such a wonderful street scene! Regards from London…

  • Reply Holly March 30, 2014 at 10:16 am

    So happy for you that you got to meet and chat a bit with Sir Paul Smith 😀 Definitely a highlight for #tinasjubilee !!!!!

    The Gummi Chan exhibit is really something special. I think I could have looked at it all day too! Very grateful you got such amazing shots to share.

    Well then, off to check out the Gummi Chan website now …


  • Leave a Reply