The culture of fashion: the creative legacy of Willi Smith
I finally managed to get stuck into the Willi Smith community archive – part of the recent Cooper Hewitt Willi Smith: Street Couture exhibition – with its immersive oral history from friends and customers. It’s so brilliantly done, giving you a real sense of the designer, the man and his influence on his creative community.
I didn’t realise what a big fashion name he was in the 80s. According to Apartamento magazine, “his face was easily recognisable by the average American.” He was turning over millions of dollars in profit and would have his driver pick him up from his TriBeCa loft in a limo every morning.
It suggests Halston levels of fame and a similar level of influence. Willi Smith, via his brand WilliWear, helped introduce the idea of streetwear to the masses, along with fashion-art collabs (such as his work with Christo, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer), merch and gender-neutral fashion.
The current issue of Apartamento has a big cover feature on Willi Smith and his interior taste (below). He had a ‘collage’ approach to decor and fashion design, mashing together his influences from African art and photography, Indian textiles, European furniture design and many then-obscure design references. Many of those references are now regular (to the point of cliché) parts of our design lexicon, but back in the pre-Internet age were only accessed by deep analogue research.
Anyway, I recommend diving head first into these online archives, the stories are pure joy!
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Willi Smith courtesy Bonnie Brownfield; photo by Max Vadukul; Willi Smith wearing Barbara Kruger collab T-shirt; Tribeca apartment; Tribeca apartment by Rosemary Peck; Tribeca apartment
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here
CLICK HERE to get Disneyrollergirl blog posts straight to your inbox once a week
CLICK HERE to buy my book The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman
23 November, 2020 @ 7:04 pm
Love reading this feature….thank you for the heads up!
23 November, 2020 @ 8:04 pm
Thanks for reading Paula!
24 November, 2020 @ 1:35 pm
Thank you for the influence this morning
25 November, 2020 @ 9:09 pm
This post made me very nostalgic! I used to work in the PR dept at a major department store in L.A. We were doing a promotion with Willi and I was in charge of ads, invites and the fashion show. I did a really fun ad for the newspaper and when Willi came for the event, he told me how much he loved it. I only had a few moments to spend with him but he could not have been any nicer and was so appreciative of what I had done. What a mensch! I really liked him. Alas, gone too young and too soon.
That's Not My Age
26 November, 2020 @ 4:23 pm
In the 1980s, I had a Willi Smith/Willi Wear zip up cardigan that I bought in a cool shop in Manchester