The virtuous Jaclyn Smith hasn’t always been quite the angel.
A mother first, actress second and never fodder for the tabloids, Smith did stir the pot when she launched her signature apparel and accessories collection at Kmart in 1985 long before parlaying celebrity status into a fashion label became standard procedure.
This story first appeared in the September 10, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“In the beginning I had everybody telling me, ‘No, don’t do it,’” recalled Smith. “I was doing a miniseries. I was under contract at Max Factor, and I said no to Kmart. But they said just take a meeting, and I liked the line of clothes I saw there — Hunter’s Glen. It was collegiate, classic. There were 100 percent cotton shirts and prices I couldn’t believe. Did I shop Kmart for clothing? No, I didn’t. But I loved that I could be totally involved in the hangtags, the buttons, the commercials and with the designers. Something in my head said ‘Yes.’ I was adventurous. I went against Max Factor. They could have dropped the contract, which they didn’t do.”
With a face and figure that could pass for half her age, the 62-year-old Smith, a former Breck Girl, Charlie’s Angel and star of many TV movies, maintains a fresh, wholesome appeal even if the scripts aren’t as available. And she puts it all out there in the latest Kmart ad, photographed by Norman Jean Roy, where she appears with a group of models a fraction of her age. In the past, she’s always been alone in the ads.
Her Jaclyn Smith collection stands as one of the most, if not the most, enduring celebrity lines and a steady light on Kmart’s prosaic selling floors now for 25 years. The occasion is being marked with a party at the Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel in New York Monday and with an anniversary collection that adds a punchier layer to a mostly traditional, classic line. Perky petaled blouses, leather-tweed jackets detailed with quilted insets, soft synthetic flannel trousers with chain belts, sequined sportswear and slimmer fits instill “a more sophisticated and elevated approach,” said Lisa Schultz, executive vice president of apparel design at Sears Holdings Corp., the parent of Kmart. “We took the iconic pieces and reengineered them in better quality and finer detailing.”
“It’s a much more modern look,” added Bruce Goldberg, director of design for the Jaclyn Smith at Kmart collection. “There is no reason for the line to look dowdy. It’s really about kicking up all the best-selling items to a higher level of quality and detail.” Prices are 30 percent higher on average in the anniversary component, which can be mixed with the core collection to create outfits.
“These are real clothes for real women,” said Schultz when asked what’s kept the Jaclyn Smith collection kicking all these years, while other celebrity labels have come and gone. “The stuff holds up to a lot of department store clothes. It’s very hard to create this collection. It takes a lot of development. We don’t just pick up something off the rack and copy it. There’s something really genuine about Jaclyn, and that comes through.”
“When I launched it in 1985, I traveled the country making appearances and meeting my customers, and in the next day or so, I’d get right back home,” Smith said. “I was a mother first and [Kmart] understood that and that’s why we have gone the distance. We have shared the same values with whoever was in charge at Kmart. There’s been this approachability, me not being an elitist, wanting to hear my customer’s point of view. It’s authentic. I care. I am involved. I’m not just putting my name on a hangtag. I wear the clothes. I wear them a lot. Many times I have to show the label because people don’t believe it’s mine. I wear other designs, like a classic Chanel jacket. I inherited some Chanel pieces from my mother. I’ve worn Prada — absolutely. Wonderful designers are inspiring. I also love designers not known. I love a lot of vintage pieces. I am pretty minimal, pretty classic.”
While she has stepped out in city shorts and platform shoes in the past, “Normally, I don’t like to be really trendy. I like to say, classic with a twist….If you feel good in it, that’s the key. I do think the fountain of youth comes from inside.”
Smith’s merchandising empire includes a line of fabrics for interior design, a line of wigs and home products for Kmart including tabletop, stemware, towels, sheets, Christmas ornaments and outdoor furniture. She’s co-developing a skin care line with her husband, which is expected to launch in October or November.
Looking ahead, “Wood furniture, case goods, is an area that intrigues me. I like antiques, not that I would do only traditional furniture. I would shake it up. When you look at the mass market in furniture, there is a sameness,” she said. In-store boutiques at Kmart are also on her wish list, but she realizes the limitations. “Definitely in a store like Kmart, certain things are crowded. The hangers are not always the best. We fight for changes in these areas. In apparel, Kmart is not the most glamorous store to go into, though they are certainly making advancements cleaning it up.”
As far as getting back on screen, she’s in discussions on a series with Cheryl Ladd, who was also a Charlie’s Angel. “It would be like a half-hour comedy series. This could be fun, something unique. I don’t want to say too much.” Down the road, “I would definitely consider something edgy,” but not anything R rated. “I don’t think I would want to parade around without my clothes. That would be kind of bizarre for me. But everyone wants a great role. I haven’t been out there for awhile, but I recently did ‘Law & Order.’ Sometimes you’ve got to put yourself out there. Early on, I was offered a lot of different things. It just wasn’t part of me. I wouldn’t have been comfortable. I don’t think children want to see their mother in an R-rated movie.”
She’s never made one, however, she does believe being “a goody-two-shoes, that’s not appealing either.”