Designer Q&A with Charles
Before you launched your line, you had a career as a model. How did that experience inform what you’re doing now?
Modeling came when I was 14. I’m originally from New York and they scouted me one day when I was crossing the street. Two weeks after I got signed I ended up moving overseas to Milan, and it was a crash course in modeling. We did everything from runway practicing and understanding how to pose to just figuring out who you are as a model.
Being in high fashion rather than commercial modeling, it was about being who you are, not the traditional idea of pretty. I really loved the people, the characters I met. Everyone was really accepting. Being conditioned in that environment played a huge part in who I am today, being able to be vulnerable in front of people.
I networked a lot, but since I was young, I was kind of ignorant to my surroundings. I did this side photography art project for Karl Lagerfeld and at the time I didn’t know really who he was, or how monumental he was within the industry.
How did you make the jump to designing?
At first it started with me wanting to design because I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted when I would go shopping, so I just figured out how to make it myself. That sparked it, and then once I embraced it, I started having these visions of how I would create these things. It was a crazy risk to take — being a model is one thing, but it’s a completely different thing to be a fashion designer. But once I got into it, I really started to see what fashion does for people. It does have relevance and importance to some degree. Plus, you can’t walk around naked. You need clothes.
Talk about the differences between your lines, Smith II and S2 by Smith II, and the woman each is designed for.
Smith II is where it all started, as far as the luxury, couture design. Being in high fashion as a model, that’s what I was conditioned to know. The woman who wears Smith II is that woman who goes to the art galas. She’s one of the major donors to the museum, or the celebrity that goes to the red carpet events. It’s catered to that lifestyle of philanthropy and events.
And then S2 is more of a ready-to-wear brand. The price points are a lot lower so it’s more attainable for everyone to acquire. That’s why I separate the two, because even though I love high-end luxury fashion, I want everyone to have something. I was conditioned in high fashion, but I’m still from Harlem, so I have a hard side of me, too, and S2 let me do that. It’s funny though, because some of my Smith II clients also like things from S2.
Tell me a little bit about your creative process. How does it begin?
It’s very, very organic. It always starts with music, being around people, conversation. Listening to what people are into and what they like. I also watch a lot of movies for inspiration. I’m a big Stanley Kubrick fan, but I balance that with silly, trashy stuff too, like Love and Hip-Hop. Just like I was conditioned in two very different environments, I like to balance my inspiration with those two very different worlds, the two different aesthetics.
What’s the most exciting part of running your own fashion business?
Not knowing where it’s going to end up, but understanding what I’m working towards. Just trusting whatever happens. I get to continue to be a student of the game every day.
What was the inspiration for your Do Not Touch collection?
There were three inspirations. First there’s what stemmed from the police injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. I thought that when police see this “Do Not Touch” message, they might think twice. When you see something that says, “Do not touch,” it triggers something psychologically. Either you respect it, or it provokes something and you want to touch it. It’s that red button.
Second, going into art, in museums you’re always told, “Do not touch the art.” The respect we have for art — the way you wouldn’t touch an Edward Degas painting, or a Picasso, or a Mark Rothko — that’s the same respect we should have for human lives in general.
The third is women. You’re out and people are trying to grab on you. That’s why I strategically put the words across the breasts and across the ass because you look at it, you see it, and you think twice before you try and violate somebody.
Who is your style icon? Daphne Guinness.
Who do you dream of dressing?
How would you describe your line in one word? Radical.
Instagram user who inspires you?
Favorite piece you’ve designed?
The Do Not Touch Collection.
A trend you’re not into? Trends period.
What inspires you most? Everything around me inspires me.
First piece of clothing you loved?
The t-shirts I make for myself.
Charles smith II
A rising up and coming young designer originally from Harlem, New York now residing in Dallas, TX, Charles Smith II is leading the art and fashion community in young generations both in his city and on an international stage. His diverse aesthetic vision is apparent in his luxury brand “Smith II” and his edgier ready-to-wear brand “S2 by Smith II,” a line for young fashionistas who are also influenced by fashion but still want to eat after acquiring it.
Charles Smith’s transition from a player in the NBA D-League, to a model, and then to a designer showed him just how powerful following your dreams can be. He has walked in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York, Miami, Berlin, London, Paris, and Milan, experiences through which he saw one side of the industry. Living in Milan, Italy from 14 to 16 years of age and again from 19-21, Charles honed a European style through firsthand experience in the European fashion world.
He has dressed fashion notables and celebrities such as Rev Run’s daughter Angela Simmons, Chris Brown’s ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran, and also Lenny Kravitz’s daughter Zoe Kravitz, just to name a few.
Charles has inspired and influenced his young followers by showing them that a kid from Harlem can make any dream come true.