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Jaclyn Smith line expands to home furnishings

Original ‘Angel’ is a historical pioneer in the celebrity brand business
/ Source: The Associated Press

Before Jennifer Lopez began hawking frocks and perfume, before Sean "Diddy" Combs and his Sean John threads, before Kathy Ireland led the charge into supermodel merchandising, there was Jaclyn Smith.

Two decades ago, capitalizing on her "Charlie's Angels" fame, Smith signed a deal for a Kmart clothing line. Given Smith's image as the elegant Angel on the TV series, it was seen as roughly akin to Posh Spice marrying a pro bowler instead of a glam soccer star.

"At the time, people said, 'Don't do Kmart.' But something in my head said, 'Yes, I want to do it,'" Smith recalled. Among those against the idea her was cosmetics maker Max Factor, which didn't relish the idea of its pitchwoman attached to sub-couture clothing.

But the 1985 partnership between Smith and Kmart proved lucrative for both, with her line a mainstay for the retail chain since its introduction.

"I don't have to defend it anymore. One hundred million women are wearing (the clothes) and it's been phenomenally successful," Smith said. Annual sales have reached as high as $600 million, according to the actress-entrepreneur.

She was "a historical pioneer in the celebrity brand business," said Michael Levine, a Hollywood publicist and author of "A Branded World." While she didn't attain pop icon status, he said, Smith was able to offer a "wholesome, middle of America brand."

But as celebrities who followed her became virtual conglomerates, Smith kept her commercial interests narrow. She was balancing motherhood and acting (TV projects including "Rage of Angels" and "The Bourne Identity") with her retail responsibilities.

"There was never a lull: Kmart, movies, miniseries, kids in school. Homework was harder than all of it," said Smith. Her children, with ex-husband Tony Richmond, are Gaston, 24, and daughter Spencer Margaret, 20.

In recent years, however, Smith started branching out in a big way — or in, with Jaclyn Smith Home goods including upholstered and wood furniture and fabric. Rugs, fine art reproductions, lamps and more also are available or planned.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

"My goal is to be a whole-home resource," she said. "We're on our way and almost there."

She's among a growing number of famous names to move into home furnishings. Even the cachet of late greats such as Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart is being mined for home decor lines, said Marty Brochstein, executive editor of The Licensing Letter.

Jaclyn Smith International, formed four years ago as she launched her new ventures, has partners including Largo International of Houston and Hickory Hill Furniture Corp. of Valdese, N.C.

It was Largo president Glenn Wakefield who first approached Smith.

"He was from Houston, I'm from Houston. It just seemed to fit," she said. "I think God has a plan for us: My kids were grown up and it was, 'Let's challenge her in another area.'"

If Kmart shoppers were wooed by Smith's looks along with her low-priced clothing, furniture shoppers might feel equally ardent about her Los Angeles house. Filled with to-die-for antiques, it's impeccably decorated down to the last detail, including delicate hand towels in the powder room.

(When this visitor asked to use the bathroom, Smith proved her hospitality: She hurried ahead to make everything was perfect. It was.)

Just as she insisted on being an integral part of the Kmart design and marketing team, Smith said, she has a direct hand in her new home furnishings. She works with manufacturers and invites them to her home to understand her taste.

A further Smith touch: Sofa styles are named after family members, streets she's lived on or, with an element of Hollywood glitter, characters and roles she's played on TV, including Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

In the end, it's the goods that counts more than celebrity clout, said licensing expert Brochstein.

"The name will help you get onto the sales floor, but ultimately it's about whether ... they see it, in the case of furniture, as something they want in their home," he said. "It's not like the name 'Jaclyn Smith' is scrawled all over the couch."

A history of good business senseSmith sounds confident her home furnishings, a step up in price from her Kmart apparel, will be equally well-received. She's considering cosmetics and jewelry lines as her next ventures.

Has she surprised herself with her business acumen?

"I was brought up with a sense of investment, of being wise with your money, in a conservative way. So, with that, I truly question why am I doing this and collect my facts, educate myself."

Among her corporate duties are personal appearances to meet potential customers. On a recent visit to Hawaii she promoted Jaclyn Smith Home at a military base store, among the retailers carrying her furniture, and gave pep talks to salespeople.

Her memorable first in-store appearance for Max Factor, at a Bloomingdale's in New York, came at the height of her "Charlie's Angels" fame.

"They had a stampede and had to take me out," she recalled. These days, people still show up with dolls and lunch pails from her 1976-81 tenure as Kelly Garrett on the fluffy detective series.

"People who are true fans are shaking, crying ... it's very emotional. It's not sign and move on," she said. Her admirers must think time has stood still for Smith, who at 58 looks virtually unchanged, her hair still glossy brown and her figure Angels-trim.

Smith, who stuck with the TV show for its entire run and with Kmart despite corporate turmoil, appreciates loyalty. She also has a sense of perspective. Asked if she ever worried that her personal life — she's been married four times, including her current eight-year union with Dr. Bradley Allen, a heart surgeon — might affect her business interests, she brushes away the question.

She was only concerned about how her family would react, she said, and they understood her decisions.

"My public image is so squeaky clean, some might say, 'Live it,'" she added. She now has a "strong, good marriage, a wonderful husband, and he's an incredible stepfather."

Smith's increased business focus hasn't kept her from reading the scripts that come her way, although she laments the rise of reality series and decline of TV miniseries.

It's possible her children might make entertainment a family tradition. Her daughter studied dance at New York University and is evaluating her future, and her son is a "talented photographer" who could emulate his dad, a cinematographer, Smith said.

She understands that life takes unexpected turns.

"Listen, I started as a ballerina. I thought I was going to be to teaching ballet down the street in Houston, Texas, living a few houses from my parents. So life is a surprise and you never know where you're going to go."