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...





︎

     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. 


See All︎   Contribute︎



Featured —


Wendy Goodman



I remember standing in the entrance foyer of Willi’s showroom; I was a young fashion editor at New York magazine, flying by the seat of my pants, and so excited to finally be meeting one of my all-time fashion heroes.

I waited in a dramatically lit space, and all of a sudden Willi appeared from around the corner; he greeted me with a big smile, and I loved him on the spot. He radiated energy and joy and adventure. I felt like I was meeting an old friend even though this was our first meeting. He took me back to show me the collection, and my imagination started racing, thinking about what we could do together that would be more than just showing his fantastic clothing.

I went back many times to see different collections but really as much to be with Willi and talk about everything going on in our world. Finally, I came up with a story idea that not only showed Willi’s beautiful clothing but featured Willi himself.


Read article︎
Willi Smith and Khadija in “Gotta Dance,” New York, Photographed by Mario Testino, 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.