Architect John Pawson on minimalism and the white shirt

Legendary architect John Pawson is famed for his minimalist structures and interiors, an aesthetic which feeds into his love of the classic white shirt.
“My wife Catherine prefers me in blue shirts,” says John Pawson, with maybe just the subtlest hints of disdain for the very idea. “But I have a fondness for white ones. I prefer other people in white shirts too, because they’re the least clashing with the surroundings.” That a man should be quite so particular about the shade of his shirting is perhaps better understood given Pawson’s reputation: as arguably the west’s pre-eminent exponent of what some call minimalistic, but what he prefers to call simple architecture, interiors and objets.
This is the man - appointed CBE for services to architecture last year - who gave Calvin Klein’s stores their signature sparseness, who stripped ostentation and flash from the idea of luxury espoused by Ian Schrager’s hotels, who designed both London’s new Design Museum and a Cistercian monastery - and who was told by the prior, on visiting Pawson’s home, that he worried his aesthetic was “too austere”. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Pawson is also a man known for his love of pattern-, texture- and colour-free white shirts, which - given his Methodist background - he frugally wears until they’re falling apart. “And I’m not precious about them,” he adds. “You get used to not worrying too much about the state of what you’re wearing when you spend so much time on building sites.” That said, he prefers to keep his shirts as white as possible. He washes them on their own - not even with other white garments.
Given how minimalism is often wrongly conflated with the cold and uncomfortable, Pawson can wax lyrical about the sensuality of slipping into a fresh white shirt, but also - given how white is often misconstrued as bland or featureless - about the sheer variety of whites there are, once you open your eyes to them. He’s a self-described evangelist for white. But, he stresses, it’s a colour that should be worn in moderation: rarely if every head to toe, preferring himself to set his white shirts off against grey flannel trousers in the winter and classic chinos in the summer.


    February 2020


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