UP2LATELY: Hillary B. Smith on Her New Fashion Line, the Future of Daytime and Her Former Soap Returning to TV!
Hillary B. Smith may best be known for her 20+ year run as “One Life to Live’s” legal eagle, Nora Buchanan, but she’s recently taken on a new role in life: Fashion designer! Soap Opera Network caught up with the busy actress — who also appears on and supervising produces the web series “Venice” — to get the scoop on her new fashion line, as well as her thoughts on what went wrong with “OLTL’s” second run and what she thinks about her former TV home, “The Doctors,” making a return to television!
Like most soap stars, Smith tends to look radiant while walking the red carpet. But she had an extra spring in her step during this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, because she was wearing one of her very own designs!
“It’s called an Original IWRAP and it’s from Kissmith Designs, which is a company I started with my dear friend Adrienne Kissel,” the actress explains of the fashion line, which features wraps that are made to be worn in a variety of different ways. “You wear them as a poncho, as a bathing suit cover up, a tunic, as a scarf, anything you want. We saw something [similar in a store] and it was so expensive, and we thought, ‘This is ridiculous! It’s got one seam. Why can’t we do that?’”
So do that, they did. And the result has been fantastic — with an emphasis on “fan.” “It’s a very cottage business,” Smith says of the one-of-a-kind designs. “I learned how to build the website, I learned how to do graphic design for the tags, and I run the website. We also handle all the distribution ourselves. It’s just me and Adrienne. I mean, a lot of fans have bought them, and we have correspondence that goes back and forth [because] I wanted to make sure that it was personal. And then I had my friend put up a Facebook page, and I wanted people to post pictures of themselves wherever they wore their IWRAPs so that we could see who they were and what they were doing and make it sort of a fun community.”
In addition, the actress and her friend wanted the IWRAPS to be affordable. “We look for very specific fabric from warehouses where designers sell their remnants,” she details of the process. “There are these cashmere [wraps] out there for $450 and yes, they’re cashmere, but you know what? It doesn’t cost them $450 to make them!”
Keeping the prices low, however, has been a tricky battle. Currently, Adrienne hand sews each piece. But the demand has gotten so high, there’s no way she can keep up! “The problem we’ve had was about selling out; it was about inventory, about keeping up with the demand,” says Smith. “And that’s when you have to sit down and go ‘Ok, we have to make a decision: Do we keep with the original idea of only one or two of a kind? I think they’re so special. That’s what I like, because you’ll never see yourself coming and going. Or do we put out a lot of money and buy bolts and bolts and yards and yards of our staple fabrics and then manufacture those and run the risk of not getting our money back or having this huge outlay? So now we’re at that point where we’re thinking, do we go bigger? Or do we keep it small and just find a couple of sewers? My partner can’t be sitting there at the sewing machine anymore!”
That’s a decision the pair faces as they ready their fall line, which Smith says should be on the website — which is www.originaliwrap.com — by November. In the meantime, she’ll be focusing on designing, a passion she’s had since before she got into acting. “When I was younger, I worked at a store called Mark Fore & Strike and I used to do their fashion shows for them,” she recalls. “I’d pull outfits together and do the fashion shows every week, so I always thought about going into fashion, but I never did, because the acting was really truly my passion. My acting took off, and that’s where I went.”
And speaking of acting, it’s been quite an exciting year for Smith, whose web series, “Venice,” won the Emmy for Outstanding New Approaches – Drama Series. “Isn’t that cool?!” Smith (who plays Guya) enthuses of the show, which she also supervising produces. “We have 14 million viewers on “Venice,” and it’s so interesting to me where web series are going. I thought it was really interesting to have the Emmys online this year. I know there were some issues with some of the interviews on the red carpet, but ultimately, we got congratulations from Australia and Japan and Italy and China. It was a much more global event. And these web series are global. They’re all over the world, and people really enjoy being able to see them from wherever they are.”
The online version of “One Life to Live” had similar perks, but as everyone knows, it also had some major problems right out of the gate, leading to its ultimate demise. And unfortunately, the reincarnation’s untimely death (that has since lead to a lawsuit between Prospect Park and the series’ original network, ABC) was a major letdown for Smith. “There weren’t really any final moments, and that was the problem,” she says of Nora’s end and the end of the show as a whole. “We went on a hiatus, and we were supposed to come back, and to be perfectly honest, I had to pass on other work because I was under contract with [Prospect Park]. And then they bailed on it, and I don’t think it’s a secret that they owe people a lot of money. They didn’t end up honoring the contracts, so that was kind of a bummer. And now they’re in this big lawsuit and they’re suing everybody, and it’s just too bad. And I felt bad for the fans. I don’t feel like they got any closure.”
But what exactly went wrong? Especially considering Prospect Park was extremely dedicated in bringing the soap a second life. “I think the true problem was that they used a broadcast model on the Internet, and you can’t do that,” she explains. “You have to curtail your productions to the fact that you are on the Internet, and the Internet, as wide as it is and as wonderful as it is, is a frontier that hasn’t been monetized the way broadcast has been monetized… Prospect Part wanted to do it their own way, and they weren’t particularly interested in seeing what works on the Internet; they wanted to do it their way. And unfortunately, I think that was their downfall. Their intention was there, they wanted to make it work. They were right behind it, they were really excited about it, and while we were working, they treated us all very well. [But] they hired broadcast people, and you can’t really have broadcast people when you’re dealing with the Internet. It’s a different medium.”
Though “OLTL” bit the dust, another of Smith’s former soap homes is making a grand return from the dead: Retro TV has announced that it will begin airing reruns of “The Doctors” this fall! “That is such great news!” says the actress, who got her start playing Kit McCormick on the show in 1982. “That’s going to be really interesting, because ‘The Doctors,’ its such a wonderful soap, and the stories were really simple and heartfelt, and I think once you see the stories, people are either going to be ‘Eh,’ or they’re going to be so taken in, because it’s really about character. It wasn’t about the bang-bang, shoot em’ up and the big explosions and the floods and the tornadoes. It was really truly about the human drama in a small town… I hope it’s successful. I really do. I think that would be wonderful.”
“This is a genre that really should not be dying out,” she continues. “Everyone started looking for the money, and when you start looking at the bottom line, you’re forgetting the process, and you’re forgetting what made it good and what made it popular. People want heroes. They wanted to be able to root for somebody. I guess it got more fun to write the bad guys, and so the heroes kind of became jokes and buffoons. And that’s what kind of lost people along the way. They really want their heroes. And they want to know characters so that when a character walks into a room and there’s a situation going on, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I know exactly how he’s going to react and I can’t wait to see it!’ And that’s what the cliffhangers were all about.”
Speaking of cliffhangers, though we wanted to know more about Smith’s thoughts on the soap opera industry and its future on the web and in other formats, we had to let her get back to designing the fall line of IWRAPS. But before going, she wanted to thank her fans for all of their support. “[Kissmith Designs] started out with fan support and kind of took off from there,” she says. “I’m so grateful for my time in the soap world. I met some really wonderful, close friends that I consider family. I met wonderful people that started out as fans that are friends of mine now, and the community is just that: It’s a community. We all know each other, and especially the old guards, because we all remember what it was like, we all remember why we went into this business, and we all still celebrate each other. And you don’t get that in this industry. It’s a really wonderful community, and I’d love to see it come back. I’d love to see it come back properly, and I’d love to see it come back with all of the modernizations that have gone on in the world, and with all the modern stories that you can tell, there’s still the human aspect. I think we need to get back to that, and I would love to see that come back in a soap form.”