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Q&A with Charlotte tastemaker Paul Simon

Paul Simon opened his namesake men’s clothing store in 1975 and has developed a loyal following of some of Charlotte’s best-dressed men in business, political and philanthropic circles. (His wife, Marcia Simon, runs Paul Simon Women.) He’s also an artist whose colorful paintings reflect the joy of his craft. In both his art and his business, he has a strong sense of balance. He’s been able to be a successful clothier for almost four decades while still making his family a priority. He believes fit and color are the most important part of dressing well. Once you’ve conquered that, clothes are a way to project your persona and give you confidence, he says.

Q: Do you plan to buy anything new to update your wardrobe for the fall?

A: I like to keep my wardrobe fresh and current. Men have gone from pleated to plain front trousers, trimmer fits and shorter jackets. I will weed out the items that need to be replaced, both for fashion, but also because they may be tired.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Well, it’s my style – not anyone else’s. I like comfortable clothing, natural fibers, and good quality. I do not like to draw attention to myself, but want to be confident that I look as good as I can. Fit and color are critical.

Q: What are your favorite brands?

A: I like Belvest, Corneliani and Hickey Freeman for suits and sport coats, Ferragamo and Talbott for ties, Eton for shirts and Peter Millar for sportswear. I believe that there has to be a price-value relationship for every category. Good clothing should last, and enhance how you look. It should be in style for the life of the garment.

Q: Who’s your biggest style influence?

A: My boys, Jon and Daniel, are great dressers. They have their own style – sort of classic current – if there is such a thing. They wear good clothing and keep it youthful and stylish without looking contrived. Marcia always looks good, so I want to make sure that I am an asset on her arm.

Q: What’s your favorite workout?

A: I go the gym three times a week. I do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and follow it up with 30 minutes of upper body machines. I have been doing this for most of my adult life and find it’s a good routine for me. I also walk my dog, Coco Chanel, in the neighborhood as much as I can. She is a great conversationalist, so the time flies by.

Q: What’s been the highlight of your summer?

A: It was our annual family trip to Litchfield Beach. Marcia and I, our children and now our grandchildren have stayed in the same old house for over 20 years. It is just a lazy time that we can all be together, tell stories and build memories. We look forward to it all year long.

Q: What’s your favorite flower?

A: We have a wall of Jessamine that blooms very spring in our backyard. We have a “smell the Jessamine ritual,” where we invite the grandchildren over. I think that smells are evocative, and hope that every time they smell Jessamine that they will think of Marcia and me.

Q: Any museum exhibits you have seen, or hope to see?

A: In April, Marcia and I visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and then the Prado and the Thyssen in Madrid. The Prado has been on my list for a long time, and it was overwhelming. Jon and I took a couple of hours in July to check out the Impressionists at the Metropolitan.

Q: Any books you are looking forward to reading?

A: Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power,” and Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” book.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of furniture?

A: I like my reading chair, and also a small table that came from my grandmother’s house. She spent her life reading, and there was usually a stack of books and a magnifying glass on it.

Q: How does being an artist and having an artist’s eye influence other parts of your life?

A: I like to find settings that offer beautiful landscapes. The N.C. mountains and the beach are perfect places for me. I really enjoy discovering anything artisanal – anything of beauty that was made by hand. When I was at the Prado, and could see one masterpiece after another, the history and work of some of the world’s artistic geniuses, I could not catch my breath.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make when hosting a party?

A: They do not plan, and invite too many people. In our case we like to keep it small, 8 to 10 people tops. We like to entertain at our house and eat dinner at the kitchen table. We try and give a lot of thought to the synergy of the company, the appropriate menu we put together, and hope that the planning pays off with a great evening for everyone.

Q: Who’s your favorite famous person you’ve met?

A: I have not met many famous people, but I am a great admirer of our own Hugh McColl. He has positively impacted Charlotte more than anyone I know, and any visit with him ends up with a takeaway of both wit and wisdom.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I am inspired by the people I know who move through their lives with grace and dignity. They handle the vicissitudes of life with a kind of elegance that I admire very much.

Q: Is there anything you loved as a child that still influences you today?

A: The smells of bread baking in both my grandmothers’ kitchens. They both were wonderful cooks. I grew up with lots of good food. I love to cook and to share food and drink with family and friends around our table. Whenever I smell fresh bread, I am taken back to those kitchens.

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