As creative director of Smith II—the brand he founded a few years ago, intent on making it Dallas’ primary fashion house—Charles Smith II is always trying to perfect his craft, looking for ways to improve. Before he was designing, Smith, 26, applied this attitude to a different field.
Born in Harlem, New York, Smith grew up playing basketball. At age 14, he moved to Dallas to play at Lincoln High School. At 6-foot-2, he was relatively short, but he could jump. He could dunk on anyone.
During high school, his height and physique proved useful in another capacity. Earlier in New York, Smith had been approached by model scouts, and Lincoln allowed him to travel and model for about two years. But he couldn’t keep up with the pace, so he chose basketball over modeling.
“I committed to the University of Connecticut, where I got a scholarship,” Smith says. “But then I ended up not passing the math portion of the TAKS test. I felt like my dreams shattered in that moment. I ended up getting my GED instead, but I lost my scholarship.”
Smith wound up at the University of South Carolina for a year and a half but left to join the NBA Development League when he was 20. He played with the Texas Legends for a year.
Then came the shift. His interest in design grew out of a dilemma of not finding reasonably priced clothing that he found appealing. “So I said, Why don’t I just figure out how to make what I want to wear?” Smith says. He enrolled in the Art Institute of Dallas, and SMITH II was born.
The aesthetic of his label revolves around black and white, heavy with shapes and structures. He plans to have a show for his spring/summer collection in February at the Scottish Rite Museum Ballroom. “It’ll be my first haute couture type of designs,” Smith says. “I actually have some people from fashion houses in Paris coming to the show, kind of like basketball scouts. No pressure.”
When it comes to Smith’s personal style, he mainly wears clothes he’s designed but occasionally opts for labels like Alexander Wang. Now that Smith has gotten attention from fashion moguls, he sees a future where he’ll have a platform from which he can invest in kids who may have similar aspirations, specifically in Dallas ISD and Lincoln High. “I remember myself being so young but having adult responsibilities,” Smith says. “So I decided to make long-sleeved shirts, and all the proceeds from the shirts go to a scholarship I started for DISD kids who want to pursue careers in creative arts.”
As he inspires students to dream big, he’s wasting no time pursuing his own. “I’d love for SMITH II to be the Chanel house for Dallas,” he says. “I want to be that type of fashion hub here. The bigger your dreams, the bigger your opportunity.”