Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum today, Dec. 3, announced plans to launch a digital community archive in conjunction with its upcoming “Willi Smith: Street Couture” exhibition (on view March 13 through Oct. 25, 2020). The digital community archive, which will be powered online by Cargo, will share public anecdotes, personal photographs, ephemera and garments documenting and celebrating Willi Smith’s contributions to fashion, art, design and performance.

“Cooper Hewitt’s team realized early on in our research that while the depth of Willi Smith’s story may be missing from the history books, it is vividly alive in the minds of his family, friends, collaborators and admirers,” said Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, curator of contemporary design and Hintz Secretarial Scholar at Cooper Hewitt. “Smith’s community revealed to us that he was more than a designer—he was an activist, an entrepreneur, a cultural catalyst and a confidant. This digital archive extends an open invitation to the public to rectify history by taking an active role in shaping an understanding of Smith’s influence.”

The Willi Smith digital community archive is being created in partnership with Cargo, a site-building and hosting service for designers and artists, as part of Cargo’s ongoing initiative to support arts and culture through collaborative projects.

Founder of the iconic brand WilliWear, Smith aimed to democratize fashion through affordable styles that could be worn across seasons. Quality of materials, durability and craftsmanship were paramount to the brand. His clothes moved from the office to the dance floor, blending exaggerated shoulders with harem pants, layering color and pattern, and blurring gender boundaries. WilliWear’s collaborations with Christo and Jeanne Claude, Nam June Paik, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Dan Friedman, SITE and many more aimed to bring avant-garde art and design to the everyday consumer.

To expand the narrative of fashion history, Cooper Hewitt is calling on the public to share images and recollections of:

  • Smith-related designs, drawings and ephemera from 1960–1987
  • Smith and WilliWear garments from various collections or artist collaborations produced between 1973–1987
  • Garments produced based on Smith’s Butterick or McCall’s Patterns from 1972–1986
  • Photographs of individuals wearing Smith’s designs
  • Memories or stories related to Smith, WilliWear events or the experience of wearing his designs

Submission guidelines are posted at www.cooperhewitt.org/willismith.

“Willi Smith: Street Couture” is organized by Cunningham Cameron, along with curatorial assistants Darnell-Jamal Lisby and Julie Pastor. The exhibition will feature key works by this pioneer of streetwear fashion and explores Smith’s efforts to champion inclusive fashion and lifestyle through innovative partnerships with artists, designers and performers.

“Willi Smith: Street Couture” is made possible by support from The Coby Foundation, Ltd.

Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

ABOUT COOPER HEWITT, SMITHSONIAN DESIGN MUSEUM

Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 210,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3-D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. Cooper Hewitt knits digital into experiences to enhance ideas, extend reach beyond museum walls and enable greater access, personalization, experimentation and connection. The museum is fully accessible.

For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Photo: Jerry Isenberg, Willi Smith, Rosemary Peck, and Harriet Selwyn in Los Angeles, CA, Photographed by Jean Desaarin, 1980. Courtesy of Rosemary Peck.