Edited by Alexandra Cunningham Cameron
Fashion designer Willi Smith, pioneer of streetwear and visionary collaborator, finally gets his due in an exuberant celebration of his life and work.
Before Off-White, before Hood By Air, before Supreme, there was WilliWear. Willi Smith created inclusive and liberating fashion: “I don’t design clothes for the queen, but the people who wave at her as she goes by,” he said. A rising star from the time he left Parsons, Smith went on to found WilliWear with Laurie Mallet in 1976 and became one of the most successful designers of his era by his untimely death in 1987. Smith broke boundaries with his streetwear, or “street couture,” and trailblazed the collaborations between artists, performers, and designers commonplace today in projects with SITE Architects, Nam June Paik, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Spike Lee, Dan Friedman, Bill T. Jones, and Arnie Zane. Essays by leading figures from the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, and cultural studies paired with newly resurfaced images and ephemera make Willi Smith essential reading for the history of streetwear culture and the evolution of fashion from the 1970s to today.
Willi Smith: Street Couture is a companion to the exhibition Willi Smith: Street Couture, on view at Cooper Hewitt through October 25, 2020.