Image Story

Attitudes

Horacio Silva

Willi Smith, a product of the pop era, was influenced by agenda-setting visionaries like Malcolm McLaren, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and the clamor and glamour of his beloved Harlem church ladies. His fashion presentations also suggested a love of drag ball culture, a budding scene whose efflorescence coincided with Smith’s move to New York in 1965.

Friends recall his being a Harlem habitué and a regular at drag dives like the Gilded Grape. Fittingly, his collections were often broken down into sections whose nomenclature—Varsity, Work Epic, Renegades, Igloo—bring to mind the categories of the balls. It’s hard not to hear the hyperarticulated, stentorian pronouncements of ball emcees when reading WilliWear program notes: “drill cloth, poplin, corduroy” and “architectural outerwear ready for layering.”

Horacio Silva is the head of content and special projects for Metrograph and is a renowned writer and editor for the world’s most prestigious publications and brands.

Willi Smith for WilliWear, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1984

Grayscale image of a model posing dramatically wearing a dark hooded sweater, long wool skirt, large decorative belt, thick socks, and flat shoes
Grayscale image of a model wearing a corduroy trench coat and pants, a button-down shirt, slouchy socks, an elaborately decorated belt, and an oversized scarf

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1983

Sketch of a figure from “Nomads” attitude wearing belted trench coat and scarf over long-sleeved shirt and pants

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Nomad Illustration, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection, 1983

Grayscale image of male and female models posing dramatically; male model wears a dark wool hat, jacket, and pants with back facing the camera; female model wears dark wool hat, jacket, and sleeveless jumper with white long sleeve dress

Willi Smith for WilliWear, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1984

Sketch of a figure wearing an oversized sweater, pants with large pockets, a hat, and sunglasses

Willi Smith for WilliWear, illustration, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection, 1984

Grayscale image of a model looking directly at camera, wearing a closed high-collar jacket, knit gloves, and rolled up pants with thick socks and sneakers

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1983

Sketch of a figure from “Work Epic” attitude wearing an open vest over a belted long-sleeved dress

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Work Epic illustration, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection, 1983

Sketch of a figure from “Igloo” attitude wearing an oversized hooded dress with welt side pockets and pants

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Igloo illustration, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection, 1983

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection, Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1983

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1983

Sketch of a figure wearing a trench coat, scarf, pants, and harness belt

Willi Smith for WilliWear, illustration, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection, 1984

Grayscale image of male model wearing a black hat, trench coat with leather harness over-top, a plaid scarf, creased pants, and dress shoes

Willi Smith for WilliWear, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1984

Grayscale image of two models posing dramatically; one model wears puffy jacket with scarf and striped pants; other model wears scarf over head, a turtleneck, hoodie with rolled up sleeves, and long striped skirt

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1983

Sketch of a figure from “Renegades” attitude wearing scarf and vest layered over striped button front shirt and trousers

Willi Smith for WilliWear, Renegades illustration, Street Couture Fall 1983 Collection, 1983

Grayscale photograph of model wearing houndstooth coat, thick turtleneck sweater, plaid scarf, skirt with side slit, and boots with thick socks

Willi Smith for WilliWear, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection. Photographed by Max Vadukul, 1984

Sketch of a figure wearing an oversized collared shirt, trousers, black belt, and hat

Willi Smith for WilliWear, illustration, SUB-Urban Fall 1984 Collection, 1984

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