Willi Smith Community Archive


Willi Smith: Street Couture—Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s book and exhibition—was built through the memories and contributions of Smith’s friends and collaborators. Share your own story about Willi Smith here...





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     I don’t design clothes for the Queen; but for the people who wave at her as she goes by.



The Willi Smith Digital Community Archive invites friends, collaborators and admirers of American designer Willi Smith to share in writing his history. This site collects and publishes personal recollections, new scholarship, video, and digital ephemera that contributes to a greater understanding of Smith’s life, work, and times.
During his twenty-year career Willi Smith (1948–1987) united fashion and American culture, marrying affordable, adaptable basics with avant-garde performance, film, art, and design. At the time of his sudden death from AIDS-related illness, Smith was considered to be the most commercially successful Black American designer of the 20th century and a pioneer of “street couture”—fashion inspired by the creativity of people from the cities to the suburbs that captured the egalitarian spirit of the age.

Portrait of Willi Smith, Photographed by Kim Steele, ca. 1981


︎  Browse the site by subject, timeline, and through open call submissions, or share your own story. We want to hear from you!



Community Archive



The Willi Smith Digital Community Archive collects and publishes personal recollections, new scholarship, video, and digital ephemera that contributes to a greater understanding of Smith’s life, work, and times. 


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Featured —
WilliWear New Wave Graphics


By Julie Pastor

Willi Smith’s designs presented new takes on elevated basics with a mission to make fashion accessible and affordable to everyone. His democratization of fashion echoed key values of modernism, which aimed to bring good design to the masses, but Smith’s production of interiors, events, and performances broke down traditional hierarchies of high and low art in a playful manner that was decidedly new. The experience of WilliWear’s innovative productions often began with a program of creative graphics—invitations, posters, and press kits—that captured the spirit of the collections through new forms and collapsed the rules that had communicated modern graphic design for decades. These materials defined the brand while creating a platform for emerging graphic designers to present the New Wave of good design to a mass audience of U.S. consumers.


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Bill Bonnell for WilliWear, WilliView Maquette, 1985

This website was designed by and created in collaboration with Cargo, as part of its ongoing initiative to support arts, design and culture.

This website was designed by and created in collaboration with Cargo, as part of its ongoing initiative to support arts, design and culture.