Willi Smith: Street Couture at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, through October 25, 2020*

“Founder of the iconic brand WilliWear, Smith aimed to democratize fashion through affordable styles that could be worn across seasons. Quality of materials, durability and craftsmanship were paramount to the brand. His clothes moved from the office to the dance floor, blending exaggerated shoulders with harem pants, layering color and pattern, and blurring gender boundaries. WilliWear’s collaborations with Christo and Jeanne Claude, Nam June Paik, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Dan Friedman, SITE and many more aimed to bring avant-garde art and design to the everyday consumer.

The exhibition features key works by this pioneer of streetwear fashion and explores Smith’s efforts to champion inclusive fashion and lifestyle through innovative partnerships with artists, designers and performers.” — Cooper Hewitt

“Cooper Hewitt’s team realized early on in our research that while the depth of Willi Smith’s story may be missing from the history books, it is vividly alive in the minds of his family, friends, collaborators and admirers,” said Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, curator of contemporary design and Hintz Secretarial Scholar at Cooper Hewitt. “Smith’s community revealed to us that he was more than a designer—he was an activist, an entrepreneur, a cultural catalyst and a confidant. This digital archive extends an open invitation to the public to rectify history by taking an active role in shaping an understanding of Smith’s influence.”

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

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Installation view of “Willi Smith: Street Couture.” Photo: Ann Sunwoo © Smithsonian Institution

Willi Wear Showroom

WilliWear Showoom, SITE, 1982, Photographed by Andreas Sterzing, Courtesy of SITE – James Wines, LLC, photo © Andreas Sterzing

Willi Smith, ca. 1981, Courtesy of Kim Steele

Willi Smith, ca. 1981, Courtesy of Kim Steele

“Willi Smith: Street Couture” is organized by Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, along with curatorial assistants Darnell-Jamal Lisby and Julie Pastor.

Images courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

*PLEASE NOTE: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is temporarily closed to the public.