Willi Smith Digital Community Archive
On the occasion of Willi Smith: Street Couture, Cooper Hewitt is creating a digital community archive to honor the life and innovations of pioneering American designer Willi Smith. Powered by Cargo, the archive will collect and share anecdotes, personal photographs, ephemera, and garments to document Smith’s contributions to fashion, art, design, and performance.
To expand the narrative of fashion history, Cooper Hewitt is calling on the public to share images and recollections of:
- Willi Smith designs, drawings, and ephemera from 1960–1987
- Willi Smith and WilliWear garments from various collections or artist collaborations produced between 1973–1987
- Garments produced using Willi Smith Butterick or McCall’s Patterns from 1972–1986
- Photographs of individuals wearing accessories or articles of Willi Smith and WilliWear clothing during these periods
- Memories or stories related to Smith or to the experience of wearing his designs
Help write fashion history. Share your stories with us!
Review the terms and conditions and submission guidelines below. Email your completed questionnaire to email@example.com
Example Stories and Images
I met Willi through his partner, Laurie Mallet, and started working with him in 1983. It was an exciting time in my career. Willi would say, “Come and do whatever you want.” He created a whole new world in his runway shows. Even in Europe, no other runway show had the kind of atmosphere that Willi channeled. For the 1984 SUB-Urban collection I said, “I’d like the models to put on their own makeup.” I applied cream makeup colors to the palms of their hands—turquoise, green, yellow, red—and instructed them to smear it on their faces as they walked down the runway. It was rare then for fashion designers to collaborate in that way with so many artists, but the time was ripe for change, and Willi was the instigator of that change. He wanted to work with the best and didn’t have an ounce of ego. I think he was very secure in who he was, to be so generous.
I first heard about Willi Smith from my friend, the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, who would say his beloved Willi Smith jacket was all he needed for traveling.
I was lucky to have known Willi Smith for the seven years I worked with him and Laurie Mallet as head of communications for WilliWear. The job was a whirlwind of work, parties, and collaborations. Willi knew I was “wet behind the ears,” but was a wonderful teacher, colleague, and friend. I never laughed so much in my life as I did with Willi Smith. Surely one of the moments Willi was most proud of was when he was asked by Ed Schlossberg to design his and his groomsmen’s suits for his wedding to Caroline Kennedy. Willi taught me how to be relentlessly curious, to be cool, to be a friend, and what it was like to be around someone who took immense pride in his work. But what I remember most, beyond his creative genius, were his endless fits of laughter at the spectacle of life.
I’ve photographed people for fifty-five years, and very few stand out in my mind as having had that special aura about them. Alice Walker, James Baldwin, and Cesar Chavez had it, and so did Willi Smith.
This photograph was taken by an amateur photographer named Robert, whose last name I’ve forgotten. He died years ago. I’m wearing a WilliWear jacket, which I loved and wish I’d kept; I believe the pants are also WilliWear. The year must have been 1986. My first novel Haunted Houses came out the next year, and the photographer posed me so that its title, on a page from The Village Voice which had published a chapter, could be seen on the table. I bought all of my WilliWear in a small, crowded store managed by an Indian man, whose shop was on Ninth Street between Broadway and Fourth Avenue. It had large picture windows, though clothes were piled up so you couldn’t see inside, and was at the bottom of an office building. The store was full of a mix of clothes, much of it coming from India. I bought several cotton WilliWear shirts also, one was yellow linen, cut in a broad A shape, with wide 3/4 sleeves. I may have also bought an olive green one. The shopkeeper closed the store not that long after Willi died, I believe, and opened another store on Second Avenue, in the late 1990s. But there was no more Williwear.
I remember the WilliWear showroom on Seventh Avenue being quite extraordinary. It was like this club of girls and realm of clothes.
Call for Submissions
About The Project
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is building a community archive to accompany Willi Smith: Street Couture opening March 13, 2020. We want personal photographs, anecdotes, ephemera and garments to document and celebrate Willi Smith’s contribution to fashion, art, design and performance. Tell us how Willi Smith touched your life.
How will your contributions be used?
Your contributions will be considered for acquisition in Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection, exhibition, educational programming, and sharing on the museum’s social channels and Willi Smith archive site.
When you’ve finished completing this form
Read, accept the terms and conditions, and sign.
Return this pdf to firstname.lastname@example.org and attach any images that you’ve selected to contribute.
What happens after you submit the form and any materials?
Once you have answered and submitted the questionnaire below, submissions will be reviewed approved for use. Approved materials will be integrated in the exhibition or stored in various capacities, creating a database for future public viewing.
Only Submit Stories You Know You Have Permission to Publish
If you are submitting the story on behalf of someone else, please make sure you receive permission from the person or entity who owns the content and intellectual property rights for the material(s) you will be submitting. While you will retain ownership of your submission, by submitting content you give the Smithsonian (and those authorized by the Smithsonian) permission to use it for educational, promotional, or other non-commercial purposes. For additional details, please refer to our Terms and Conditions for Submissions.
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Image Credits from Top to Bottom: Courtesy of Rosemary Peck; Courtesy of Rosemary Peck; Courtesy of Sylvia Waters, Photo by Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution; Courtesy of Mark Bozek; Photograph © Paula Court; Courtesy of Mark Bozek; Courtesy of Mark Bozek; © Anthony Barboza; Courtesy of Lynne Tillman; Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Shutterstock