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 —


Laurie Mallet



Little did I know when I went to New York for an Easter holiday as a student of economics and political science at the Institut d’études politiques [Institute of Political Studies] in Paris, one of the most prestigious prep schools for civil servants, that it would be such a lifechanging event.

My mother’s business was in fashion. She worked as a consultant for large corporations developing trends, creating markets, and instigating collaborations between different industries. My stepfather Severo is an artist, an abstract painter. Between my mother’s work and Severo’s, design, art, and industry were part of my education very early on. In 1973, I traveled to New York on holiday and took a portfolio of fabric designs done by French artists, thinking I could sell them to American fabric manufacturers at a higher price than what they were getting in Europe. I did manage to sell a few and paid for my trip. It was through this business effort that I met Willi Smith. It was love at first sight. 


Read article︎

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.