Black Fashion History: Meet Willi Smith


Smith was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School and attended Philadelphia College of Art for fashion illustration. He then moved to New York to go to Parsons The New School for Design, the highly competitive art and design college of The New School university. For a short time Smith freelanced with Arnold Scaasi and Bobbie Brooks’s sportswear company.

In 1967, Smith quit Parsons to pursue a career designing on his own. In 1969 he designed a label for Digits, a sportswear company. Smith continued to design and in 1976 he went into business with Laurie Mallet and called the company “Williwear.”

He designed the wedding dress worn by Mary Jane Watson when she married Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comic book and comic strip in 1987,and the suits for Edwin Schlossberg and his groomsmen when he married Caroline Kennedy in 1986. Smith also designed the uniforms for the workers on Christo’s 1985 wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris and clothes for Spike Lee’s film School Daze (1987). Smith worked with many other designers and artists during his time at Williwear including Antthony Mark Hankins, James Mischka, Julia Santos-Solomon, Jon Coffelt, John Bartlett and Andre Walker among many others. Smith partnered with Jhane Barnes on some of his earlier shows.

Smith was the costume designer for “Secret Pastures” which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 1984, one of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s first major works.

Smith earned two scholarships to attend Parsons School of Design in 1965.
In 1983 he won an American Fashion Critics’ Coty Award for women’s fashion.
Smith won a Cutty Sark Award for Men’s Fashion in 1985.
He was honored with a bronze plaque for Fashion Walk of Fame along Seventh Avenue in 2000-2002.


James, George (1987-04-19), Willi Smith, Clothes Designer; Creator of Vivid SportswearNew York Times, retrieved 2007-09-19

Willi Smith-Black History Designer-Spotlight-2


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