Style & Grooming

Paul Smith and R.E.M. on Their Collaboration

The 25th birthday of R.E.M.’s seminal album Automatic For The People is being celebrated with a new capsule collection

  • TextTom Connick

Eschewing the fiery rock of breakthrough album Out Of Time and inspired by the band’s collective fear of oblivion as its members approached their 30s, R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People remains a cornerstone of alt-rock’s evolution 25 years on. An intimate, introspective reflection on a darker side to the group’s psyche, Automatic For The People nevertheless thrived on its vividity.

It’s that which informs R.E.M.’s new collaborative capsule collection with British fashion titan Paul Smith. Built upon a line of statement tees and totes derived from key lyrical motifs from Automatic For The People, it’s imbued with those same foundational principles which made R.E.M.’s eighth record such an essential element of the 90s musical lexicon. Through pocket squares and woven scarves adorned with the striking images which make up the record’s artwork, photographer and longtime R.E.M. collaborator Anton Corbijn also lends his work to the collection, resulting in a line which fully encapsulates the creative spirit of R.E.M..

“It felt like it was meant to be!” laughs R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe at the collection’s launch. “That sounds so stupid, but it felt like a good fit. I’ve admired Paul Smith and his curiosity and interest in all things design for a very, very long time.”

“I’m a bit of a control freak,” he continues. “[With] anything around R.E.M., I’m gonna make sure that it represents us in the way we want to be represented – I don’t like it when people cut corners.” The strength of the design and the quality and care instilled in each product is testament to that fact – most notably, the textured, woven scarves which form the centrepiece of the collection. “It took a week for them just to set up the machines, to get photography to work in a jacquard weave,” Smith explains.

Admitting to his fears when it came to reinterpreting such an iconic record, the designer admits that “what was so cool was that Michael was so involved. He had to approve literally everything, including the swing tickets, the boxes, the tissue paper… everything, which I was delighted with.” It’s a creative fluidity which Stipe is all-too-familiar with: “I came out of art school, and early on the band were like, ‘We need a record cover, we need photographers, we need to shoot a video – you’re the art student, why don’t you do all that?!’” he laughs.

Six years on from R.E.M.’s split, and re-interpreted in countless ways in the 25 years since its release, Automatic For The People’s latest guise is testament to the record’s longevity. “We went supernova [with] the record just before this, so we had a good bit of confidence to do something we’d never done before with this record – and it worked out,” Stipe continues. “R.E.M. as an entity is now finished, which gave us all the more reason to try something like this [collection]. Now the band is over, it’s nice to look back – I can finally breathe, and see it from a distance. It’s nice to now celebrate every aspect of it.

Paul Smith and R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People collection is out now at selected Paul Smith stores and online. These images are exclusive and on display at the Albemarle Street store until the end of November.