Jaclyn Smith fashions an empire


The former Charlie’s Angel took her love of design and created a brand, encompassing clothing lines, home decor, and now skin care products.

CBS News

ANGEL, INC. is our lighthearted description of a TV actress-turned-businesswoman. You may remember Jaclyn Smith from her days as a different sort of angel. John Blackstone has her story:

At her home in Los Angeles, Jaclyn Smith is right at home shooting a commercial for the clothing line she helps design for Kmart. The ad is a family affair, with roles for Smith’s daughter, Spencer, and even her six-month-old granddaughter, Bea.

It’s all part of Smith’s very personal involvement in building her brand with Kmart since the 1980s. “All I can say about branding, if you do it for the paycheck, walk away -- it doesn’t work,” she told Blackstone. “It is the day-to-day details. It’s becoming a part of that company.”

And Smith is very much a part of Kmart. Visiting the store, one is surrounded by Jaclyn Smith. She showed off one of her best-selling blouses. “We’ve sold about 400,000 last year.” Then there are the 700,000 slinky tees.

Her clothing line is just the beginning. The discount chain sells everything from shoes to sheets that carry Jaclyn Smith’s name. 

Jaclyn Smith with correspondent John Blackstone. CBS News

“Walking around the store here, I’m trying to figure out what percentage of this store is filled with Jaclyn Smith,” Blackstone said. “It’s a big percentage!”

“Well, after 32 years, I deserve it, right?” she laughed.

Kmart almost turned down Kmart’s offer in the mid-’80s when celebrity branding was something few celebrities did.

“I was the first celebrity brand in Kmart,” she said.

“You were almost the first celebrity brand anywhere.”

“Right. In 1985, yeah. I mean, I was kind of teased about it and made fun of.”

Back then, Jaclyn Smith was famous for being an angel … one of “Charlie’s Angels.” The series went on the air in 1976 with Smith, Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson playing daring private detectives who sometimes had to fight crime in bikinis.

Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson and Farrah Fawcett in “Charlie’s Angels.” ABC

Blackstone said, “Certainly, ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ I think was seen by some as a real feminist show. Others called it ‘jiggle TV,’ right?”

“I think they liked to think it was jiggle TV. But it was so mild,” Smith said. “I mean, when you compare it to what’s happening today, it was a nursery rhyme!”

Growing up in Houston, Smith never intended to be an actress; she trained to be a dancer.  But when she moved to New York she was soon in front of the camera shooting commercials.

“We just did, like, 100 commercials,” she said. “Camay, Listerine, Woolite. It was a great training ground, because it really teaches you about camera and projecting on camera.”

Her perfect looks were perfect for selling soap and skin cream; her flowing hair, ideal for shampoo. Her Breck commercial got her noticed by producer Glen Larson, who gave Smith a role in the series “McCloud.” “And I got to do ‘McCloud,’ and that opened up another show. And so I did really quite a few shows before that one special show.”

With “Charlie’s Angels,’ she was no longer just a pretty face in commercials. ”We were in people’s living rooms every week, we were household names. So it opened up doors that we never dreamed about.”

She still made commercials, but now her name was as prominent as the product.

1984 Jaclyn Smith Max Factor Commercial by Beta MAX on YouTube

But Max Factor didn’t understand when Kmart came calling. “Max Factor did not want me to join with Kmart,” recalled Smith. “They said, ‘It’s not your customer.’ So on the first meeting, after that, I turned it down.”

The discount retailer didn’t seem like the right match for Smith’s image. But Kmart wanted more than her face and her name; they wanted her ideas, too. “I’ve always loved design. And I thought, ‘Well, this is unknown terrain. But this is gonna be a challenge, this is gonna be fun.’ And on instinct, I changed my mind and said, ‘This is something I want to do.’”

In the 32 years since, Smith’s designs have filled women’s closets, including her own. “One of the best sellers are always my little short jackets, that you can wear with jeans, you can wear with a pencil skirt.”

Kmart research shows that her brand is well-recognized among women between 35 and 60 -- at 80 percent.

“Certainly, your name may get people to buy it the first time,” Blackstone said.

“But the product makes you come back,” she replied. “100 million women today have purchased some of my clothing or accessories.”

And while products with Smith’s name fill many aisles in Kmart stores, those stores aren’t nearly as busy as they once were. Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, warned investors last month there’s “substantial doubt” the company can “continue as a going concern.”

“It must be difficult,” Blackstone said,” to see those stories, Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, in big trouble.”

“Absolutely,” she said. “Despite what you read, despite what you hear, we’re still out there working hard, producing new things. Every retailer is faced with stores closing. We’re not the only one.”

In spite of the challenges, she continues to look to the future, working with Kmart designers on a new line of infants’ clothing.

Blackstone asked, “Do you have any idea how much money you’ve been worth to Kmart?”

“A Texas girl never talks about money!” she laughed. “But it’s a good feeling to know that we’ve reached so many people.”

And she is still reaching out, diversifying, with fabrics, wigs and skin care products. As an actor she was an angel. In business she seems to have all the angles covered.

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