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. I cast different couples to come to the studio, where Mario Testino would photograph them dancing. Each couple did a different style of dance: ballroom, roaring twenties Charleston, rock ’n’ roll. I am pretty sure Willi danced a hybrid of jitterbug and rock.
It was one of the most fun fashion shoots I ever did and I think one of the most successful because it captured each couple’s sparkle and personality, and the clothes were the perfect expression of their emotions while dancing. Willi lit up the room that day, as he did every time I saw him.
Willi Smith and Khadija in “Gotta Dance,” New York, Photographed by Mario Testino, 1985