How Jaclyn Smith Went from Charlie’s Angel to the Queen of Kmart Collabs
Money Talks, and so should we. Here, powerful women get real about their spending and saving habits.
These days, it seems that almost every celeb with a stacked IMDB page and a sizable Instagram following has a fashion line. But decades before Jessica Simpson cornered the market on peep-toe platforms and Kate Hudson put her stamp on yoga pants, there was Jaclyn Smith.
Following her success as one of the original Charlie’s Angels in the 1970s, Smith was the OG celebrity brander, becoming one of the first actresses ever to launch an eponymous fashion collection for a major U.S. retailer (her line hit Kmart in 1985), and a successful one at that.
Now, 33 years later, Smith is still churning out closet classics, and more than 100 million women have bought something that bears her name.
Though it may seem like a no-brainer for an actress to dip a toe into the retail world now, Smith says that she was actually advised against it in the '80s. “I already had a contract with Max Factor at the time, and they didn’t want me to do the line with Kmart because they said it wasn’t my customer,” Smith tells InStyle. “So I actually turned them down the first time they came to me. It wasn't until the second meeting when I sat down and thought, ‘You know what? I really want to do this for me.’ I didn't take it on for a career move or as a way to make a lot of money. I simply thought it was going to be challenging.”
For Smith, who was a model before her big break on Charlie’s Angels, the collection was an opportunity to be more than just the face of a brand. “If I couldn't say the hang tag needs to be here, or help develop things like the commercial and print ads, then I didn't want to do it,” she says. “But Kmart gave me limitless freedom to create and design things that I would actually love to wear.”
Smith also saw a gap in the industry for beautiful, well-priced clothes. “I realized at the time, there was a need in the mass market for fashion,” says Smith, whose collection now also sells at Sears. “Not everyone can afford to go out and pay $1,000 for a blouse, you know? So we kept an emphasis on classic, clean lines that women can wear every day, and it just worked.”
Today, the 72-year-old star considers her businesses to be as big a part of her legacy as her acting. “Charlie's Angels gave me a sense of self-definition because of the success of the show,” she says. “It’s rare gift to be part of something that we're still talking about and reinventing over 30 years later. Without that, would I have had the opportunity to do a fashion line? Maybe not. But either way, I’m grateful. I’ve loved the challenge of mixing the two.”
So what does Smith think of all of the stars-turned-designers that have followed in her wake? “There are a lot of people who are doing it well,” she says. “But you cannot phone it in. There has to be an authenticity to your work, because your customer will pick up on it otherwise.”
Keep scrolling for more from Smith.
On her first job… “My first paid job, oddly enough, was as a dancer in a fashion show at a Houston, Texas department store. I was only about 14-years-old. I don't think I made much money, but I sure had a lot of fun.”
On developing a strong work ethic… “I always liked to work. It wasn’t just earning money, though, but more about completing something. When I started my professional career in New York doing commercials, earning my own money gave me a feeling of confidence and self-esteem. I was proud because I was doing it on my own, and no one was helping me.”
On getting her start in the entertainment world… “After high school in Houston, I went to Trinity University for a year and then I finally convinced my dad to let me go follow my passions in New York — with certain rules that I followed, of course. My parents were always worried about me being in the big city, they wanted me right down the street. So I went to New York, started modeling, and that was another whole world. Today, you have to have a manager or an agent to get an audition for something, but back then there were papers called Equity and Backstage that would list what was open. I knew this was the place that would help me have a career.”
On what she bought with her first Charlie’s Angels paycheck… “I still remember it to this day, I bought a Georgian sterling silver tea set for our home. And I still have it sitting on a side board. And I still love it. Home is my favorite place. And if I'm extravagant about anything, it would be things for the home. I'm constantly reinventing my home in a new way.”
On the best money advice she ever received… “My success with Charlie’s Angels didn’t change my perspective on money because I still followed what my parents taught me, especially my dad. He always said, ‘Think ahead. Have backup plans. Surround yourself with wise people.’ That advice stills stays with me today. I invested early on. I was never careless or extravagant when I couldn't be. I didn't live beyond my means.”
On how Charlie’s Angels changed her life… “I think becoming famous for a particular show and becoming a household name can separate you in a way, from life and from your friends. It takes all your anonymity away. People feel they know you intimately and they've never met you. Still, I'm so grateful for that show. That's the bottom line.”
On how she chooses business opportunities… “I go with what I’m passionate about. And there's a constant exchange with my husband [Brad Allen]. He has an analytical mind and is great at the business part of it. He’s also a pediatric health surgeon, and so he created my skin care line, Jaclyn Smith Beauty. He was able to take what I used for 40 years on my skin and make it better, which is amazing. Every choice is personal, too. I’ve created a line of wigs that I’m very proud of. I've worn wigs throughout my career, like in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Florence Nightingale. Then, being a breast cancer survivor, I knew the importance of wigs in another way, too.”
On the secret to being successful… “I never knew that my career would go down this path. I’m the kind of person who doesn't project. Success is about hard work, doing the homework, and surrounding yourself with strong, talented people. And I’m still working hard at my age. With Charlie's Angels, part of the fun of doing that show was that the girls got along. There was a bond of fun and youthfulness on that show because we didn't know where we were going to end up. That's what made it work. And I think that's what makes business work, too. When you have that kind of freedom, you can fly with it.”
On her go-to splurges…“Definitely purses. I would also say jackets, blouses and sweaters, because I'm always cold. And then in life, I splurge on my home or family events, whether a family trip or an adventure together. It's hard not to buy my granddaughter everything. I have to hold back because my daughter won't allow it. But it's hard not to want to give, give, give.”
On the legacy of Charlie’s Angels… “Charlie’s Angels will always be a winning concept. There aren’t that many concepts like that in TV and movies that keep getting recreated. It’s a great compliment to our show. Drew [Barrymore] did two films and now Elizabeth Banks is doing it, and I'm sure she has a handle on it. The casting will be important, as well as the bond of the girls. If they stay close to the original, it had a lot of elements that were fun. Our show was escapism. Even the way Aaron Spelling wanted it photographed was bright and cheerful. I think we need more of that.”
On watching re-runs of Charlie’s Angels… “They still re-run our show. I haven’t seen it on, but I would watch if I did. People will still come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember this episode or that episode?’ I have all of the DVDs, so I definitely want to show my granddaughter one day.”