And one could argue the OnlyFans winner, Charles Smith II, was made for reality TV. Smith says he auditioned for the former two reality shows, but finally found his spotlight on the subscription-based streaming platform.
“I was in the process of Project Runway and Making the Cut, then with the pandemic, everything went out of whack," he says. "Like a lot of things, it just got kind of got lost in translation. I didn’t want my life to depend on that, so I just kept moving. My friend from New York saw the OnlyFans thing online and sent it to me, and I submitted it the day before the deadline closed.”
By April this year, Smith was headed to Los Angeles for a hectic taping session shot over four days. By June 9, Smith had bested eight of his peers (out of thousands of entries) to take home a cool $50,000. It was pretty apparent from the moment he first appeared he was likely to win.
“I only see me winning — I’m very cutthroat in that way, respectfully,” he announced in the series’ first episode. ”I don’t really concern myself with everybody else.”
Because the show was built around a designer’s complete vision, it was tailor-made for Smith’s aesthetic. Instead of multiple sewing challenges, the contestants were encouraged off-camera to sell themselves and their business.
They created a mood board, upcycled an outfit from found garments, then added to the single look for the finale. Smith’s ability to keep his viewpoint strong through each step had judges Sir John B, Maeve Reilly and Law Roach singing his praises.
“It really was one of those things where if you’re presenting to an investor, they’re really buying into you, so this is what I was about,” Smith says. “I actually talked about the business first when I presented myself and what I would do with the money. I got into [Smith's brand] Smith II and [his sportswear line] Do Not Touch, which started from the Black experience, and I just kind of won everybody.”
Almost as valuable as the seed capital Smith took home was designer Rebecca Minkoff’s advice on how to scale up in a tricky industry. The show’s mentor recommended that Smith expand into NFTs, and the designer has already reached out to those with experience in non-fungible tokens to help him explore that territory.
“Understanding how to tokenize [my line], I’m working on that with friends who know more than I do," he says. "Once I started to understand it as an actual art, it made sense to me. I’m definitely working on that and how I want to roll that out.”
The native New Yorker has been shooting for the stars since he began. Smith says he was originally planning on following a career in basketball and earned a scholarship as a teen in Harlem. At the same time, he says he was scouted on the city streets and ended up modeling for a while.
“I only see me winning — I’m very cutthroat in that way, respectfully ... I don’t really concern myself with everybody else.” – Charles Smith II
By the time he moved to Dallas with his mom to complete high school, Smith knew he was destined for a career in fashion. Learning construction and pattern-making at the Art Institute, he launched his first runway show at the Red Room in 2012 and hasn’t looked back.
Keeping calm and carrying on could be the career ethos of the 33-year-old designer, who has been slowly building his brand over the last decade. With his high-end signature line and the sportswear-driven Do Not Touch, he has clothed everyone from starry socialites to downtown kids, Nancy Rogers to Solange.
Throughout the years, he’s mounted as many as four shows in 12 months. He now plans on keeping to a two-show yearly schedule, the next of which will debut at the "Eye" sculpture next to Forty-Five Ten sometime in October. The $50,000 Smith took home is already earmarked for fabrics, taking his self-professed “street chic” aesthetic to a higher level.
“I’ve already bought all my fabrics, so I’m able to do a lot more of my runway designs without putting a limit on my ideas because of the lack of capital," he says. "Fifty thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money to a lot of people, but this is fashion. That’s why I call it 'Phase One,' because there will be many phases.”
Having garnered advice along the way from the likes of late Off White designer Virgil Abloh and with Minkoff now on speed dial, Smith is finally ready for his ambition to catch up with his reality.
“I feel like it’s time, and I’m here for it,” Smith says with a laugh. “It’s a continuation of what I’ve been doing but elevating it that much more. You’ll see what I’m able to do with the resources I have now. It’s a way of me showcasing things on another level people haven’t seen yet.”