While scouting a location for a runway show, fashion designer Charles Smith II paid a visit to his alma mater, Lincoln High School in South Dallas. After talking to the staff, it became clear to him that the problems he encountered during his time there — such as “14-year-olds paying bills” and “a lack of information and resources” — are still being faced by students today.
As he prepares to debut the spring/summer 2017 collection for his fashion line S2 at the Dallas Contemporary on Oct. 2, he's kept those concerns close to his heart. “There have to be more soldiers out there fighting for these resources to be available for these kids in urban communities."
Ticket sales for the runway show will be used to fund three $1,500 student scholarships. On his website, Smith is also selling limited edition shirts and hats, proceeds from which will go entirely to the scholarship fund. If you buy one you'll also get admission to the Oct. 2 show.
Smith is hoping his partnership with DISD amounts to more than simple charity fundraising, since he was once in the shoes of the students he's seeking to help. “I wanted to be part of something that I personally connected with," he says. "That’s why I decided to go this route because this is something I actually went through and something I can actually speak on."
Smith knows financial hardships are just an extra burden for teens already dealing with the pressure of fitting in. That is why in addition to the donations, he will also be speaking to DISD high school students.
Much of Smith’s message is directed toward students interested in the arts. “It’s OK if you’re not good at football or basketball because maybe that means you’re good at something else," he says. "I let them know it’s OK to express yourself however you want."
The freedom of self-expression afforded by creative fields is what initially attracted Smith to the fashion industry. It is a lesson he hopes to pass on to students.
“There are literally no boundaries and nothing can really stop you," he says. "I feel like if these kids can understand at an early age that by the time they’re 25 they’ll be almost half way through to their greatness, just from hearing me say this and then implementing these ideas and understanding their truth.”
Smith also hopes more local creatives and artists will follow suit and use their talents to deliver important messages in a cool way. He feels teachers often don’t know how to keep students interested and engaged.
“Sometimes we [artists] have to do that 'cause we can’t always expect the school to do it," Smith says. "If we see that problem, that’s where we need to literally come in and fix that 'cause we know how to make things cool. That’s what we do for a living. What’s the point of having these gifts and talents and not really sharing it?”
The idea of giving back also translates to Smith’s clothes themselves. Smith’s S2 line is the less expensive, ready-to-wear companion — otherwise known as a "diffusion" line — to his high-end fashion line, SMITH II. S2 pieces normally retail under $600, with jackets on the higher end of the spectrum.
The collection Smith will be debuting at the Dallas Contemporary, named "Do Not Touch," will be the second for the line. The name was inspired by recent incidents of racism and police brutality, as well as the notion that art is to be seen and not touched.
Smith hopes the '80s-themed party celebrating the collection will provide attendees a much-needed respite from an emotional and difficult summer. “I’m always considerate of people’s time and money. They are paying me to do a job. People trust that you know what you’re doing. If not, then why are they paying you?”
Smith plans on presenting 36 looks for both men and women, but even he doesn't know exactly what they will be yet. “I like people going in with an open mind; no expectations, except that I won’t disappoint you."
Charles Smith II presents his S2 "Do Not Touch” collection at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass St. Tickets are $10 to $75 at smiththesecond.com.