Willi Smith

Black and white image of a group of people, including Willi Smith, smiling and seated by a pool.

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 willismith@si.edu

Example Stories and Images

Photograph of a woman hugging Willi Smith from behind, both wearing white and smiling at the camera
A pin with the red words on a white background, saying Willi Smith Day Tues. Feb 23, '88
Photograph of a woman in yellow painting Willi Smith's nails, who is wearing a pink blouse, makeup, and a head wrap

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.
—Linda Mason

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.
—Peter Gordon

A black and white photograph of a group of people, including Keith Haring and Willi Smith, facing the camera in front a mural

A group of women standing outside wearing Willi Smith designs and smiling for the camera
Willi Smith with two friends smiling for the camera in front a bridge wrapped in tan fabric

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.
—Mark Bozek

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.
—Anthony Barboza

Willi Smith facing the camera standing with a woman in a red bikini and metallic heels, whose back is to the camera

A black and white photograph of a woman seated cross-legged at a kitchen table

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.
—Lynne Tillman

I remember the WilliWear showroom on Seventh Avenue being quite extraordinary. It was like this club of girls and realm of clothes.
—Pat Cleveland

Black and white photograph of a model in a fashion show wearing a reflective jumpsuit

Call for Submissions

Review the terms and conditions and submission guidelines below. Email your completed questionnaire to willismith@si.edu

Submission Guidelines

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 willismith@si.edu 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.

Please read and understand All Terms of Use

Before submitting your story, please check all of your materials (including narratives, photographs, audio, and/or video) to ensure they comply with the Willi Smith Community Archive website Terms and Conditions for Submissions as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s Privacy Policy and Terms of use (accessible via links in the footer of our website). Some important restrictions to be aware of are:

  • Children under the age of 18 are not permitted to submit stories to the website. Only A parent, or guardian may submit stories on behalf of a child under 18.
  • We also prohibit the submission of story materials that include full names, photographs, or other personally identifiable information of children who are currently under the age of 18, unless you have obtained prior written consent from a parent or legal guardian. Please note that historical photos of young children (provided they are no longer under age 18) are acceptable. If your images, videos, or audios include children who are currently under the age of 18, you must upload written parental consent (e.g. signed release form) prior to uploading the file(s). A parent/guardian and participant release form can be downloaded here.
  • You may also choose to obtain the permission of any other people who appear in a photograph or video that you include in your story and keep a copy of their consent in your personal records. A participant release form for images can be downloaded here.
  • We prohibit content that is off-topic, partisan-political, contains personal attacks or expletives, or is otherwise abusive, threatening, unlawful, harassing, discriminatory, libelous, obscene, false, pornographic, or that infringes on the rights of any third party.

Terms And Conditions

  • You are solely responsible for the content that you submit and the consequences of submitting content.
  • You retain ownership of your submission. However, by submitting content, you give Cooper Hewitt and those authorized by Cooper Hewitt permission to use it for any educational, promotional, or other standard museum purpose, in any media now known or later developed, without compensation to you. You further give the public permission to use the content you submit for personal, educational, or non- commercial uses in any media now known or later developed without compensation to you.
  • You will not submit content that is off-topic, partisan-political, contains personal attacks or expletives, or is otherwise abusive, threatening, unlawful, harassing, discriminatory, libelous, obscene, false, pornographic, or that infringes on the rights of any third party.
  • You only will submit content that you own or for which you have received permission from the person or entity that owns the content and intellectual property rights.
  • You understand that Cooper Hewitt monitors submitted content and is under no obligation to publish or otherwise use the content you submit.
  • By submitting content, you waive any privacy expectations you may have with regard to the submitted content. Cooper Hewitt may make the content you submit available to the general public online, at its premises, in a traveling exhibition, or in educational projects created by partners authorized by Cooper Hewitt. The content you submit also may be shared with third parties in response to law enforcement or congressional requests, in response to public requests for information from Cooper Hewitt under Smithsonian Directive 807 (available at www.si.edu/ogc) , and as Cooper Hewitt determines is required by applicable law or regulation. Do not submit any content or personally identifiable information that you do not want made public.
  • If your content is selected by Cooper Hewitt for posting, website visitors may share your content via social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and applications such as “ShareThis.” These sites operate independently of Cooper Hewitt and have their own privacy policies (any data that Cooper Hewitt collects on these sites is subject to www.si.edu/privacy). In addition, comments with which you disagree may become associated with the content you submit.
  • Cooper Hewitt decisions are final and binding.
  • You are at least 18 years of age. (If you are under 18 and wish to submit a story or content, a parent, or guardian must register and submit stories on your behalf.)
  • Any content you are submitting on the website does not include photographs, full names, or any other personally identifiable information of children currently under the age of 18, without obtaining prior verifiable consent from the child’s parent or guardian. Photographs, videos, and/or audio recordings that include children under the age of 18 may only be shared if you (the submitter) are the parent or legal guardian of each child represented, or if you have obtained prior written consent from each child’s parent or legal guardian.
  • You agree to indemnify and hold Cooper Hewitt and its sponsors harmless against any claims asserted by any third parties that allege your submission violates their rights, or from any breaches by you of these terms and conditions. You shall be responsible for any costs incurred by Cooper Hewitt or its sponsors for defense or settlement of third-party claims, including but not limited to reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • You agree to Cooper Hewitt’s website terms of use, available at www.si.edu/Termsofuse, which are incorporated here by reference.
  • All submissions are voluntary on your part.
  • To request removal of your user account, or to request removal of a story you have submitted that you no longer wish to be published or archived on the website, please contact Cooper Hewitt staff at willismith@si.edu.

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