FASHION AND URBAN STREET LANDSCAPES – Willi Smith, improvisational genius New York City sidewalks

When the convenience of clothes democratizes fashion

His grandmother, a housekeeper of a family close to a fashion designer, helped her grandson get an internship with that clothing expert. He began his career as a designer in 1967, seeking inspiration from what people wore on the streets of New York. After a conversation on the street about his style, he befriended Bethann Hardison, who became his ideal model. His sales experiences even featured building materials, as well as objects salvaged from the sidewalks of New York City. The problem of dressing for Willi Smith overcome with his WilliWear Ltd and creative partner Laurie Mallet. From 1948 to 1987, he combined American fashion and culture through avant-garde performances that assembled film, art and design.

As a young boy, he enjoyed spending his time at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, then striving to draw on the floor at home. With his improvisational genius, the energy that emanated from the urban streets radiated on the sales through special events and fantastic installations. To produce clothing, Willi Smith used collaborators who, through progressive technologies and ideas, cultivated the fields of social change of that era. In 1974, he teamed up with his sister Toukie and a friend of hers to form his Willi Smith Designs label. He did not design dresses for princes and queens, but for ordinary people who could meet them on the street.

After studying commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School, he took a fashion illustration course at Philadelphia Museum College of Art. He liked to design clothes; his mother noticed this and predicted a career as a designer. The road landscapes played on him the role of real catalysts of transformative everyday life. While working as a designer for the Digits clothing label, he met Laurie Mallet and wanted her as his design assistant. A true pioneer of street couture, at the time of his sudden death, Willi Smith had become the most successful American black designer of his century. He not only liked that whoever wore his clothes looked good, but also that their bodies were comfortable in them.

Born in Philadelphia in 1948, he became one of the most successful African American designers in the fashion industry. Willi Smith imagined an inclusive and playful society, where fashion from the cities to the suburbs was able to inspire and coagulate the egalitarian spirit. Moving to New York City, he attended the New School for Design College of art and design. While taking art classes at New York University, designer Arthur McGee became his mentor. For his creative talent, he was nominate for the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1972, and the following year he began designing models for Butterick. WilliWear Limited, which he launched in 1976 (the first company to create women’s and men’s clothing under the same label), continued to make fashion with various designers even after his death, ceasing production in 1990.

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