Art, Fashion, Performance: Seeing through Creative Collaboration

As the collaborative relationship between art and fashion has evolved into near ubiquity over the past 30 years, so have questions around the cultural and commercial impacts of their entwinement. Not only did Willi Smith understand this, he was a pioneering force in this new relationship.

Smith’s brand WilliWear aimed to democratize fashion by combining performing and conceptual art with affordable basics inspired by his diverse audience. Smith and collaborators such as Christo and Jeanne Claude, Juan Downey, Dan Friedman, Nam June Paik, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Les Levine, and Dianne McIntyre experimented with dance, music, film, and installation to bring art out of the gallery and into everyday experience. While WilliWear’s clothing remained suited for the mainstream, the brand relied on collaborations with artists to signal its alignment with critical movements such as techno-utopianism, institutional critique, New Wave design, and queer liberation.

During this conversation, moderated by Dario Calmese, Jacolby Satterwhite and Bethann Hardison will discuss the potential for multidisciplinary collaboration to shift values, the shape of improvisational careers, and the nuances of creative process and presentation across media.

This virtual program is offered in conjunction with the exhibition, Willi Smith: Street Couture.

Sitting at the nexus of art, fashion, and academia, Dario Calmese is an artist, writer, director and brand consultant currently based in New York City. He received his master’s in photography from the School of Visual Arts and his bachelor’s in psychology at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Classically trained in the performing arts, he uses his knowledge of movement, gesture, and psychology to create complex characters and narratives that explore history, race, class, and what it means to be human. In 2020 Calmese made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair in its 106-year history with his portrait of Oscar-winning actress, Viola Davis. 2020 also saw the launch of his widely-acclaimed podcast, The Institute of Black Imagination, which features conversations from the Pool of Black Genius through the lens of design.

Activist, model, muse—with a career spanning over five decades, Bethann Hardison has gone from working in NYC’s Garment District; to becoming one of the first Black models favored by European and New York designers; to creative director and producer; to founding her namesake agency where she guided the careers of some of the most prominent models in recent times. In 1988, she founded the Black Girls Coalition, and in 2013, she spearheaded the launch of the Diversity Coalition sparking an industry-wide movement for diversity and inclusion. In recognition of her decades of advocacy work, Hardison received the CFDA’s Eleanor Lambert Founder’s Award in 2014. She became an inaugural member of Gucci’s Changemakers Council in 2019, and in 2020, she became Gucci’s Executive Advisor for Global Equity and Cultural Engagement and also joined the CFDA’s Board of Directors. Hardison is currently working on her autobiography and a documentary titled “Invisible Beauty” while acting in the CW’s “Black Lightening.”

Jacolby Satterwhite is celebrated for a conceptual practice addressing crucial themes of labor, consumption, carnality, and fantasy through immersive installation, virtual reality and digital media, illustration, performance, painting, sculpture, photography and writing. He uses a range of software to produce intricately detailed animations and live action film of real and imagined worlds populated by the avatars of artists and friends. Satterwhite was born in 1986 in Columbia, South Carolina. He received his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Arts, Baltimore and his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


This free program will feature a moderated panel discussion followed by an audience Q&A hosted through Zoom, with the option to dial in as well. Details will be emailed to you upon registration. This program includes closed captioning. For general questions or if we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation in this program, please email us at or let us know when registering.


Willi Smith: Street Couture is made possible by principal support from Target. Major support is provided by Gucci. Additional support is provided by the Ehrenkranz Fund and Edward and Helen Hintz. Funding is also provided by the Coby Foundation, Ltd., the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Keith Haring Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Cooper Hewitt Master's Program Fund. In-kind support is provided by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Cargo, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.