Armour sat down with Charles Smith II, a designer in the St. Louis Fashion Fund’s inaugural class. An entrepreneur and artist, Charles weaves together his artistic abilities, knowledge of the fashion industry, and vision for a better world into his clothing lines, S2 and Smith II. Below, his insights, inspirations, and a taste of his work.
You have spoken about clothing having a message. Could you talk more about what inspires the messages you express with your designs?
For me, inspiration is around at all times. You just have to be open to receiving. With Do Not Touch [S2 slogan], it started as a collection, but I kept it as its own lines because of what it means to people, and what it meant for me too. It started out as a reaction to police injustice. It was kind of my way of addressing that. You know, if there’s an African American kid walking down the street in a hoodie but now it has “Do Not Touch” centered on it with all this negative space around those words, if you’re walking towards him, your eye immediately goes to that and it triggers your mind to pay attention to it. The second inspiration is the golden rule in museums of Do Not Touch. In a museum, we hold art up as this hyper-delicacy and we tend to tiptoe around it and treat it with such value. And that should be the same way we treat humans. As humans, wearing those words, you gain that high value of art and should be treated in the same way. And then the third inspiration was more literal – for women, protecting them when they’re out and people are grabbing at them. What if your clothes could speak for you? the b-side of that was me wanting to bring awareness to the trafficking of women. Just going back to boundaries being set, and that they need to be respected. That respect is the commonality between all of the inspirations.
You have two fashions lines, Smith II and S2, so you’ve had the opportunity to express yourself through two different channels. Could you speak to that?
Smith II was the start, the high-end high fashion side. That’s where I personally started, because when I modeled I did high-end runway shows and was living in Europe. And of course when you’re over there, you’re surrounded by the highest of high fashion there is. So once I started designing, I was instantly attracted to that. Not just because of the luxury, but because of the artistry and expression. The material parts are coming from 700 different places and you’re trying to keep this vision where you can still express, but also be commercial to some degree, because it has to sell. So that’s when I created S2 by Smith II because it was something I could create at a more affordable price point and still be able to stay within a certain vision.
Thinking about balancing the market side of fashion with having these lofty ideas of what you want to create, what is the most difficult part of being both an entrepreneur and also a designer, especially with the STL market?
Different markets are just different based on the people in them. This particular market has its own divides cliques and demographics, obviously because of the racial divide here (probably more aggressive here than anywhere else I’ve been). For one, the market receives everything very slowly. It’s just playing catch up in a certain ways, pushing out old ways of thinking and making room for the new way. That’s a process in itself, but certain people have to feel this obligation to push it faster. I’m on of those people, which is why I’m always trying to work with people from different walks of life at all times and then create something where everyone can bee in the same room at the same time. That’s all it takes. You just need something that gives a shit. I’m trying to kind of break the intimidation of theFashion Fund down to make it a little more inviting for people to be like “It’s cool, we’re humans, it’s a building.” That’s been my marketing way of infusing myself in other people’s worlds and bringing something to the table, and seeing how I can help. That’s it. I’m just a person who wants to help all the time.
So what’s inspiring you right now?
Music is always the first inspiration for me. Music down something that I can’t do. Sonically, the sounds, beats, lyrics, and cadences are constructed in a way that gets into your head, literally- and I’m all about psychological emotions triggers and responses to action. Every action has a reaction. So I’m always trying to understand human habits too. A lot of it really starts there before I really create anything. You really have to- as a designer and a creative- predict outcomes. Anything entrepreneurial requires understanding and foresight of objectives and success, or at least seeing the process of getting to those winds so for me, it’s music that inspires. I love the way it makes people feel, what it can do, and the environment it can create.
Music: Playboi Cater, Lil Uxi Vert, Young Thug, Goldlink, M.I.A., Pharrell, Mozart.
On country music – “It’s definitely not A$AP Rocky”
Movies: Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining (Stanley Kubrick).
On movie direction – “I love Stanley Kubrick, the way he captures cinematography, but also the stony lines of his films are very fucked up in the best way. I find so much inspiration in the darkness, so much light in darkness. I find light in light too, but I can go both ways with that. I’m a dark soul type of individual.”
Designers: Rick Owens, Karl Lagerfeld, Giambattista Valli, Alexander Wang.
On Alexander Wang – “He has the fun dark side. His style is like you’re going to hell, but there’s a party there. It’s fun, there’s no pitchforks… and Skrillex is down there with us.”
Creative Direction Karalena Davis, Dana Berger, Charles Smith II
Words Emily Bluedorn
Photographs Max Fisher, Karalena Davis
Makeup Sophia Spoto
Paintings Sophia Spoto
Featuring Maggie Jia, Lizzie Cohan, Anwar
Armour Magazine Season 19 — F/S 2017