Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/2318802364/

Willi Smith: Street Couture

During his twenty-year career Willi Smith (1948–1987) united fashion and American culture, marrying affordable, adaptable basics with avant-garde performance, film, art, and design. Smith hoped to solve what he called "the problem of getting dressed," or the lack of control fashion afforded the everyday person, by using clothing as a tool for the liberation of stereotypes around race, class, sex, and gender, and bringing art into the mainstream. In the wake of the 1974 recession and Vietnam War, Smith founded WilliWear Ltd. with business and creative partner Laurie Mallet to produce clothing, events, and experiences with a wide range of collaborators who used new technologies and progressive ideas to transform their creative fields and instigate social change. At the time of his sudden death from AIDS-related illness, Smith was considered to be the most commercially successful Black American designer of the 20th century and a pioneer of "street couture"—fashion inspired by the creativity of people from the cities to the suburbs that captured the egalitarian spirit of the age. Willi Smith: Street Couture surveys Smith’s pathbreaking imagination of an inclusive, collaborative, and playful new society. SITE, in collaboration with Sam Chermayeff Office, designed this exhibition to recall the WilliWear showrooms and boutiques. Conceived by SITE partners Alison Sky and James Wines from 1982–1987, these retail experiences were composed of construction materials and objects salvaged from the sidewalks of New York City, bringing the improvisational energy of the street indoors as a framework for sales, events, and installations.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802528/

  • digital print on paper
  • © Martine Barrat - Used by permission. All rights reserved

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802521/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • waxed cotton

Bernie Ozer, a vice president of Associated Merchandising Corporation, described Street Couture as "a layering of something new with something old and something made to look old. And for Willi to make all the component parts hang loose, easy, and yet new, is exciting."

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802497/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Bernie Ozer, a vice president of Associated Merchandising Corporation, described Street Couture as "a layering of something new with something old and something made to look old. And for Willi to make all the component parts hang loose, easy, and yet new, is exciting."

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798785/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802522/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Bernie Ozer, a vice president of Associated Merchandising Corporation, described Street Couture as "a layering of something new with something old and something made to look old. And for Willi to make all the component parts hang loose, easy, and yet new, is exciting."

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802474/

  • 15:52 minutes

The artist Juan Downey saw technology as a means for improving society. He created a 28-monitor video work, Willi Smith and Williwear, for the Street Couture runway show, as well as a single-monitor video to be played after the event in stores and on television.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802459/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • digital print on paper
  • Photography by Max Vadukul; courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802446/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802371/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on newsprint mounted on board

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802447/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on coated paper

Bill Bonnell’s graphics embraced playful interaction. Each colorful geometric shape in this press release presents details about Smith’s collection and collaborators. The unusual coated papers add further interest to the forms, which could be arranged in the clear plastic sleeve to create a variety of visual combinations.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802448/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on coated paper

Bill Bonnell’s graphics embraced playful interaction. Each colorful geometric shape in this press release presents details about Smith’s collection and collaborators. The unusual coated papers add further interest to the forms, which could be arranged in the clear plastic sleeve to create a variety of visual combinations.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802444/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802519/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Throughout history, clothing has defined a person’s place in society, and governments have enforced dress codes by gender, race, ethnicity, and class. WilliWear collapsed the idea that people should wear clothing that conformed to a fixed identity. Smith emphasized a resistance to class distinctions prevalent in fashion at the time, saying, "My mother and grandmother were always ladies of style and still are. I guess they taught me that you didn’t have to be rich to look good."

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802369/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on newsprint

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802473/

  • 12:14 minutes
  • Courtesy of Paul Tschinkel, Inner-Tube Video

“I think art now should be in the street. I don’t think that the value or the beauty of art has to remain in the fact that it is a unique piece.” —Laurie Mallet, former president of WilliWear

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802553/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • print on paper
  • Exhibition purchase

Smith created patterns for Butterick and McCall’s from 1973–1987, further extending access to his affordable designs by allowing home-sewers to recreate and adapt looks from Smith’s collections for Digits and WilliWear. These patterns remain sources of inspiration for contemporary designers and makers.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802440/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802441/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802443/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802525/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

WilliWear first showed both men’s and women’s collections simultaneously on the SUB-Urban runway.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802490/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of The Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University, East Falls

WilliWear first showed both men’s and women’s collections simultaneously on the SUB-Urban runway.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802546/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802532/

  • 10:18 minutes
  • Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum

The SUB-Urban presentation included 6 one-minute film vignettes depicting American suburban life, a musical score by Jorge Socarras, and models who applied their own makeup, directed by Linda Mason.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802455/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • digital print on paper
  • Photography by Max Vadukul; courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Although Smith avoided categorization of his work in order to appeal to a wide audience, he credited his own perspectives as a Black man who belonged to a number of marginalized identities with informing his design aesthetic.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802414/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on newsprint
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802376/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802377/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802378/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802379/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802380/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802381/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, graphite on paper

"Willi and I came up in fashion together. We were like brothers. When we were young, Willi would show me photographs of a shirt, pants, blazer, and I would ask, ‘Why would you want to make that stuff?’ He would respond, ‘Alvin, I want to dress people in the streets.’ Willi created pedestrian clothes—clothes for the average person. He always told me that he strove to be the ‘designer of the people.’" —Alvin Bell, designer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802417/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith thought that "clothing should go hand in hand with society" and questioned the agenda of couture, which often prioritized the creative ideas of the designer rather than the wearer. He looked to what people were wearing on the street in New York and on his travels around the world to reflect diverse and wearable styles in his collections.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802458/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • digital print on paper
  • Photography by Max Vadukul, Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802372/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on newsprint
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802558/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • print on paper
  • Exhibition purchase

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802374/

  • Designed by Bill Bonnell
  • offset lithograph on paper
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802555/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Doreen Ford-Wilde

“One day, Willi and I were driving in Bombay [now Mumbai], when he suddenly asked the driver to stop at a traffic circle: he loved the shorts the traffic policeman was wearing. He asked me to get the shorts for him and adapted these humble shorts, called the ‘Bombay Short’ in his next collection.” —Vijay Agarwal, chairman and founder, Creative Group Inc.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802554/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Doreen Ford-Wilde

“One day, Willi and I were driving in Bombay [now Mumbai], when he suddenly asked the driver to stop at a traffic circle: he loved the shorts the traffic policeman was wearing. He asked me to get the shorts for him and adapted these humble shorts, called the ‘Bombay Short’ in his next collection.” —Vijay Agarwal, chairman and founder, Creative Group Inc.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802556/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Doreen Ford-Wilde

“One day, Willi and I were driving in Bombay [now Mumbai], when he suddenly asked the driver to stop at a traffic circle: he loved the shorts the traffic policeman was wearing. He asked me to get the shorts for him and adapted these humble shorts, called the ‘Bombay Short’ in his next collection.” —Vijay Agarwal, chairman and founder, Creative Group Inc.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802418/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith began his career in fashion studying illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. He soon realized that he wanted to design the clothes, not just draw them. Smith’s illustrations express the movement, attitude, and playfulness that became his signature.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802419/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith began his career in fashion studying illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. He soon realized that he wanted to design the clothes, not just draw them. Smith’s illustrations express the movement, attitude, and playfulness that became his signature.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802420/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith began his career in fashion studying illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. He soon realized that he wanted to design the clothes, not just draw them. Smith’s illustrations express the movement, attitude, and playfulness that became his signature.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802438/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith began his career in fashion studying illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. He soon realized that he wanted to design the clothes, not just draw them. Smith’s illustrations express the movement, attitude, and playfulness that became his signature.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802439/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • offset lithograph on tracing paper

Smith began his career in fashion studying illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. He soon realized that he wanted to design the clothes, not just draw them. Smith’s illustrations express the movement, attitude, and playfulness that became his signature.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802527/

  • 9:51 minutes
  • Courtesy of Jorge Soccaras

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802402/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, marker, graphite on paper, cotton swatches
  • Courtesy of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc.

Smith's illustrations for Deep South Suite adapt the extended arm that was a signature of his fashion illustrations to toned dancers' bodies with pointed toes. By drawing multiple figures on a sheet, he explored how the costumes would appear together on stage rather than as individual looks.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802405/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, marker, graphite on paper
  • Courtesy of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc.

Smith's illustrations for Deep South Suite adapt the extended arm that was a signature of his fashion illustrations to toned dancers' bodies with pointed toes. By drawing multiple figures on a sheet, he explored how the costumes would appear together on stage rather than as individual looks.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802404/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, marker, graphite on paper
  • Courtesy of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc.

Smith's illustrations for Deep South Suite adapt the extended arm that was a signature of his fashion illustrations to toned dancers' bodies with pointed toes. By drawing multiple figures on a sheet, he explored how the costumes would appear together on stage rather than as individual looks.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802469/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • 5:28 minutes
  • Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

“Duke Ellington had a very specific idea for each section, and I felt it was very programmatic—in other words the music sounds just like what it is depicting. The dance is almost a visual portrait of the music.” —Dianne McIntyre, dancer-choreographer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802452/

  • digital print on paper
  • © Johan Elbers 2019

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802427/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • synthetic fibers
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Gwendolyn Nelson-Fleming, the singer in Sounds in Motion, cared for Smith’s costumes while the company toured. She would find a laundromat at the tour stop and wash them after each show, air-drying and ironing each costume with starch to create a fresh and crisp Southern look.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802428/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • synthetic fibers
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Gwendolyn Nelson-Fleming, the singer in Sounds in Motion, cared for Smith’s costumes while the company toured. She would find a laundromat at the tour stop and wash them after each show, air-drying and ironing each costume with starch to create a fresh and crisp Southern look.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802388/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton twill, acetate
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802390/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton corduroy
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802423/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • synthetic fibers
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802424/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • synthetic fibers
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802470/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • 4:42 minutes
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

“One segment of the performance includes dancers doing aviation maneuver exercises. In the last exercise the instructor calls ‘take-off from a forced landing.’ The dancers struggle and struggle but cannot get off the ground. I enter as the mother in a white jumpsuit and speak words my mother would say to us, ending with, ‘it’s only gravity that pulls us down, pulls us to the earth. But I’ve always felt that if you could get a little air underneath your feet, you could just float’ . . . For the opening night I received flowers from Willi and the card said, ‘Maybe now we’ll finally take off . . . ’” —Dianne McIntyre, dancer-choreographer

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802453/

  • digital print on paper
  • © Lois Greenfield

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802431/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802436/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • rubber, plastic
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802433/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Although the first pilot’s license was issued to a woman in 1911, women were not accepted as commercial pilots until the early 1970s. Bessie Coleman was the first Black American woman and Native American to be issued a pilot’s license, which she received in 1926.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802437/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • rubber, plastic
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Although the first pilot’s license was issued to a woman in 1911, women were not accepted as commercial pilots until the early 1970s. Bessie Coleman was the first Black American woman and Native American to be issued a pilot’s license, which she received in 1926.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802382/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802384/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802385/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802386/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802429/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802430/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Dianne McIntyre

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802477/

  • Designed by Keith Allen Haring
  • lithograph on paper

Out of the 6 interdisciplinary collaborators in Secret Pastures, half were lost to AIDS within a period of just 5 years: Willi Smith in 1987, Arnie Zane in 1988, and Keith Haring in 1990. The AIDS crisis decimated a generation of artists and thinkers who played a major role in New York’s creative community.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802479/

  • print on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802413/

  • Designed by Keith Allen Haring
  • acrylic on canvas
  • Courtesy of Larry Warsh

Haring was a leading figure in the East Village art scene of the 1970s and 80s. Best known for his graffiti drawings made in the subways and on the sidewalks of New York City, Haring’s work expanded to include commercial products, graphic design, set design, and clothing in the hopes of accessing a wide public.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318799167/

  • Designed by Keith Allen Haring
  • acrylic on canvas
  • Courtesy of Bill T. Jones and Bjorn G. Amelan

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18673425/

  • Designed by Christo
  • offset lithograph on paper

Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon worked together on outdoor sculptures that often involved monumental displays of fabrics and plastics, civic engagement, and large public labor forces.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802456/

  • digital print on paper
  • © Christo, Photograph by Wolfgang Volz

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802529/

  • print on paper
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802409/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802491/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Workwear and uniform dress inspired Smith throughout his career, appearing in his early collections for Digits Sportswear, costumes for performances, WilliWear’s emphasis on utility, and in sketchbook references of industrial aprons and ranch wear from the American West.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802493/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Workwear and uniform dress inspired Smith throughout his career, appearing in his early collections for Digits Sportswear, costumes for performances, WilliWear’s emphasis on utility, and in sketchbook references of industrial aprons and ranch wear from the American West.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802496/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Workwear and uniform dress inspired Smith throughout his career, appearing in his early collections for Digits Sportswear, costumes for performances, WilliWear’s emphasis on utility, and in sketchbook references of industrial aprons and ranch wear from the American West.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802500/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of The Vasari Project, Special Collections & Archives, Miami-Dade Public Library System, Miami, FL

Designing the T-shirts for Surrounded Islands inspired Smith and Mallet to pursue more opportunities to bring art into everyday life. The artist T-shirt project they launched in 1984 made the work of contemporary artists accessible to the general public.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802498/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of The Vasari Project, Special Collections & Archives, Miami-Dade Public Library System, Miami, FL

Designing the T-shirts for Surrounded Islands inspired Smith and Mallet to pursue more opportunities to bring art into everyday life. The artist T-shirt project they launched in 1984 made the work of contemporary artists accessible to the general public.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802460/

  • digital print on paper
  • © Christo, Photograph by Wolfgang Volz

In addition to the T-shirts made for the Surrounded Islands workforce, WilliWear produced thousands of extras to sell to the public. Stores in Miami weren’t interested in selling them, so Smith and Mallet sold them off the backs of trucks. Many are still cherished as mementos today.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18689489/

  • Designed by Pieter Brattinga
  • offset lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802463/

  • digital print on paper
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802454/

  • digital print on paper
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18687509/

  • hand-spun cotton
  • Museum purchase from The Grodzins Fund for Textile Acquisition
  • pattern
  • women's clothing
  • geometric
  • symbols
  • contrast
  • African
  • crocodile
  • Bamana

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802526/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

WilliWear’s spring 1986 collection featured a pattern inspired by Malian bògòlanfini or mud cloth, a handmade cotton fabric traditionally dyed and printed with mud. Smith interpreted the pattern with smiley faces in a characteristic desire to insert play into tradition, and industrially produced it in 4 colorways.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802524/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802551/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Created for exhibition

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802483/

  • Designed by Steve Orant
  • lithograph on paper

The premiere of Expedition at Broadway’s historic Ziegfeld Theatre pulled the film out of the realm of fashion and into the context of mainstream cinema.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802485/

  • lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802487/

  • print on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802481/

  • Designed by Steve Orant
  • lithograph on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802472/

  • 22:28 minutes
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802398/

  • Designed by Suzan Pitt
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802512/

  • Designed by Gilbert & George (Gilbert Prousch, Italian, b. 1943 and George Passmore, British, b. 1942)
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of private collection

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802777/

  • Designed by Severo
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802396/

  • Designed by Arman
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802395/

  • Designed by SITE
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802397/

  • Designed by Barbara Kruger
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802501/

  • Designed by Robert Rauschenberg
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of private collection

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802392/

  • Designed by Keith Allen Haring
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802393/

  • Designed by Dondi
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802543/

  • 26:27 minutes
  • Courtesy of Les Levine

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802538/

  • Designed by Jenny Holzer
  • screenprint on paper
  • Courtesy of Laurie Mallet

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802535/

  • Designed by Jenny Holzer
  • screenprint on cotton; offset lithograph on paper, plastic
  • Courtesy of Laurie Mallet

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802516/

  • print on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802775/

  • Designed by Lynn Hershman
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802505/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • Manufactured by WilliWear Ltd.
  • linen
  • Exhibition purchase

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802394/

  • Designed by Les Levine
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802410/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802411/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • cotton
  • Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802399/

  • Designed by Dan Friedman
  • screenprint on cotton
  • Courtesy of Christo

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802540/

  • Designed by Barbara Kruger
  • screenprint and collage on paper
  • Courtesy of Laurie Mallet

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802537/

  • Designed by Robert Rauschenberg
  • screenprint, pen and ink on paper
  • Courtesy of Laurie Mallet

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798252/

  • Designed by SITE
  • brush and watercolor, pen and ink on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798255/

  • Designed by SITE
  • pen and ink, brush and wash on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798263/

  • Designed by SITE
  • wood, metal
  • Courtesy of SITE

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798257/

  • Designed by SITE
  • pen and ink on paper

As part of the design process, Smith gave Wines a tour of the Christopher Street Pier, then a well-known gay cruising spot, in order to point out areas that featured his favorite textures, materials, and atmospheres.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798254/

  • Designed by SITE
  • pen and ink, brush and wash on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318798253/

  • Designed by SITE
  • brush and watercolor, pen and ink on paper

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802508/

  • 2:47 minutes
  • Courtesy of SITE, Archive Miralda / FoodCultura, and Fashion Institute of Technology | SUNY, FIT Library Special Collections and College Archive

“SITE and WilliWear both cared about personal freedom and creating public experiences in the context of daily life. Willi’s creative inspiration came from watching how people on the street lived in their clothes. So my concept for bringing the streets of New York City into a commercial interior succeeded in breaking down the barrier between inside and outside while reflecting WilliWear’s identity.” —Alison Sky, SITE partner

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802457/

  • Designed by Dan Friedman
  • digital print on paper
  • Courtesy of Ken Friedman

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18673273/

  • Designed by Dan Friedman
  • black and red marking pen, crayon on tracing paper

Dan Friedman was a close friend of WilliWear and a frequent collaborator. His design for the Paris store, his first commercial interior, expressed his versatility as a graphic designer, product designer, and artist. Biomorphic furniture forms filled the colorful space, and a black-and-white desk and kiosk show how Friedman applied the scheme of the WilliWear logo to an immersive environment.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18673271/

  • Designed by Dan Friedman
  • black and red marking pen, crayon, collage on tracing paper

Dan Friedman was a close friend of WilliWear and a frequent collaborator. His design for the Paris store, his first commercial interior, expressed his versatility as a graphic designer, product designer, and artist. Biomorphic furniture forms filled the colorful space, and a black-and-white desk and kiosk show how Friedman applied the scheme of the WilliWear logo to an immersive environment.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18644071/

  • Designed by M&Co
  • lithograph on paper
  • Gift of Tibor Kalman/ M & Co.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802517/

  • Manufactured by Cutler and Gross
  • polycarbonate
  • Courtesy of Rosemary Peck

Smith’s glasses were his defining accessory. They appear as a motif on fabric patterns for Digits, a feature of early WilliWear Ltd. garment tags, and in illustrations and caricatures of Smith.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802495/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • pen and ink, collage, fabric swatches on paper
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

Smith’s sketchbook is opened to a spread of costume design drawings for The Original Cotton Club-Gala presented by La MaMa Experimental Theater and WilliWear Ltd. in 1985. Smith’s designs for the costumes were inspired by his travels in Senegal and the costumes Black American entertainers wore when performing at the original Cotton Club in Harlem from 1923–1940.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802407/

  • offset lithograph on paper

In addition to film, Smith was interested in using publishing as a tool for presenting WilliWear collections and values. In 1986, he worked with his friend Kim Hastreiter, co-founder of Paper magazine, to produce 2 issues of a playful publication dubbed the WilliWear News. The newsletter unfolded into a poster that presented short articles on lifestyle, fashion, and the arts, often through personal references to Smith’s art collection, friends, and his bulldog Rufus.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802488/

  • offset lithograph on paper
  • Courtesy of Mark Bozek

In addition to film, Smith was interested in using publishing as a tool for presenting WilliWear collections and values. In 1986, he worked with his friend Kim Hastreiter, co-founder of Paper magazine, to produce 2 issues of a playful publication dubbed the WilliWear News. The newsletter unfolded into a poster that presented short articles on lifestyle, fashion, and the arts, often through personal references to Smith’s art collection, friends, and his bulldog Rufus.

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802541/

  • print on newsprint
  • Courtesy of Laurie Mallet

"Willi is the one who connected this high-minded idea of fashion to everyday people and made them feel like they were a part of it. That has had a huge impact on the public’s embrace of fashion today—their feeling of ownership over it. Because Willi Smith taught them that fashion could be affordable. It could also be made at home. And it was theirs for the taking." —Bethann Hardison, president and creative director, Bethann Management

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802514/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • linen

In 1986, Willi Smith designed suits for Ed Schlossberg and the nine ushers attending his wedding to Caroline Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Schlossberg’s navy-blue linen suit with silver-gray tie and the ushers’ violet-blue linen blazers, white linen pants and pink ties preserved the iconic oversized silhouette of Smith’s fashions as well as the easy spirit that characterized Smith’s brand, WilliWear. Carolina Herrera designed Kennedy’s dress. Schlossberg first collaborated with WilliWear in 1984 as one of the artists behind the brand’s artist T-shirt series and later designed accessories for the WilliWear showroom and store. Schlossberg wrote that Smith "composed clothes that drifted onto people rather than ones that were connected to them. He made bodies seem as if they were moving even when they were still. There was a gracefulness to the clothes and an edge that made you notice them."

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802450/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • plaster, cotton
  • Recreated for this exhibition with permission from MoMA PS1; original exhibition architecture designed by Chauncey Jones

Willi Smith: Street Couture

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318802465/

  • Designed by Willi Smith
  • print on paper
  • ©The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY