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An SGL Black Sheroes & Heroes Monthly Series
February's Focus:
Willi Smith (1948-1987)


We look back at the illustrious career of Willi Smith. This native Philadelphian was a part of a wave of African American designers who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 70s. He eventually moved to New York City's SoHo neighborhood, kept his eye on the arts scene, and was often inspired by street culture which is why his work was often referred to as "Street Couture." Known for his inexpensive sportswear under the label Williwear, it was a huge success. Smith’s brand at its peak grossed 25 million annually and appeared in over 500 retail stores and specialty boutiques.
Smith’s gigs included designing Mary Jane's wedding gown in a Spider-Man comic, as well as outfitting the cast of Spike Lee's classic film School Daze. 

His collections usually included plenty of colors and prints (some consider him to be the first to mix and match plaids, stripes, and colors, especially in menswear). In 1983 Willi Smith won the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award for Women’s Fashion, and in 1986 dressed Edwin Schlossberg in a non-traditional navy blue linen suit and silver tie for his wedding to Caroline Kennedy. "I don’t design clothes for the Queen," Mr. Smith once said, "but for the people who wave at her as she goes by."
Throughout his career Willi Smith collaborated with many designers including John Bartlett, James Mischka, Antthony Mark Hankins, and many others.

Willi Smith died of complications from AIDS on April 17, 1987.

SOURCES: Complex.com, FashionReverie.com, and Wikipedia.com

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