Willi Smith: on the record
American designer Willi Smith (1948-1987) hoped to solve what he called “the problem of getting dressed,” or the disconnect between fashion and diverse lifestyles, by using affordable, adaptable clothing as a tool to liberate people from stereotypes of race, class, sex, and gender. Smith’s brand WilliWear relied on collaborations with artists like Bill T. Jones, Nam June Paik, and Christo and Jeanne Claude to illustrate how fashion basics could perform for the wearer in different contexts and serve a spectrum of experiences.
Join Cooper Hewitt for a conversation among writers and editors whose work has tracked Smith’s contribution to a contemporary fashion ethos that wants to celebrate both individual expression and equity. The speakers will discuss Smith’s interdisciplinary process, fusion of art and industry, use of mass media, and efforts to bring queer culture to the national mainstream.
For more information on Willi Smith’s career, please visit the Willi Smith Community Archive. For additional information on the exhibition, please visit the museum’s website. The Willi Smith: Street Couture publication can be purchased through SHOP Cooper Hewitt.
Pierre A. M’Pele, otherwise known as Pam Boy, is a fashion journalist, critic, and consultant. He graduated from Central Saint Martins and made a name for himself writing fashion show reviews and championing young talents. The former Senior Editor of LOVE magazine and founder of the aperiodic publication SCRNSHT, M’Pele has joined Katie Grand’s THE PERFECT MAGAZINE where he currently serves as Associate Editor.
Alexandra Cunningham Cameron is the curator of contemporary design and Hintz Secretarial Scholar at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She organized the Willi Smith: Street Couture exhibition, monograph, and digital community archive.
Jarrett Earnest is the author of What it Means to Write About Art: Interviews with Art Critics (David Zwirner Books, 2018); editor of Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings 1988-2017 by Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams, 2019); The Young and Evil: Queer Modernism in New York, 1930-1955 (David Zwirner 2020); and Painting is a Supreme Fiction: Writings by Jesse Murry, 1980-1993 (Soberscove Press, 2021). He served as curator of “Closer as Love: Polaroids 1993-2007: Breyer P-Orridge” at Nina Johnson, Miami (2019), as well as “The Young and Evil” (2019), “Ray Johnson: WHAT A DUMP” (2021), and “Jesse Murry: Rising” (with Lisa Yuskavage) (2021) all at David Zwirner, New York.
Willy Ndatira is a designer, creative consultant, and a co-founder of the experimental fashion collective CULT.11AD, which counts Gucci among their clients. In 2020, Ndatira became a consulting editor for the men’s publication Fantastic Man. Based between Johannesburg and London, Ndatira is perhaps better known by his Instagram handle @williamcult, where he shares his visual research and discusses social issues. Ndatira trained as a fashion designer, also graduating with an MA in Image Making from Central Saint Martins. He has written for titles including AnOther Man and i-D.
Camille Okhio is an art and design historian and writer living and working in New York City. She is the Senior Design Writer at ELLE Decor and has published pieces in T Magazine, Vogue, Architectural Digest, W Magazine, Apartamento, PIN UP, Domino, Art in America, Wallpaper*, Surface Magazine, and more.
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 CHEducation@si.edu or let us know when registering.