Person

Brian Howard

Two men and a woman stand smiling in front of a stone building facade. The young Black man on the left wears a bright yellow suit, the woman in the middle wears a white suit and holds a black bag and a camera hanging from her wrist, and the young white man on the right wears a black suit and white shirt.

I first met Willi in late 1982 when I started working full time for his close friend, photographer Kim Steele. I was Kim's studio manager, black-and-white printer, and photo assistant. Kim had a few images of Willi that he wanted to give him, which I had printed.

I was sent up to Willis West 38th Street showroom with the photographs. It was coincidence or perhaps kismet, but we both got into the elevator at the same time. When I told him I had photos of him from Kim, he invited me into his office while he looked at them. I just remember being taken in by Willis grace and graciousness as we chatted away about me being a born and bred New Yorker and, of course, my working for Kim. It was as though I met someone famous that had no pretense of fame. I was a kid barely out of the School of Visual Arts but was treated as a peer. I think my being gay certainly helped. He said, “Come back in a couple of weeks and pick out a few things—just ring the office so I know you’re coming.” Imagine what that would feel like to a young, fresh-out-of-college, overworked photo studio manager!

From 1982 until his death, I was dressed head-to-toe in WilliWear. Willi allowed me to raid the warehouse twice a year, which kept me well dressed for over five years. From our first conversation, Willi set the foundation of our friendship on dignity and respect. I was very fortunate to have him in my life. His generous spirit was already deeply connected to others in my life whom I too loved and respected—Jorge Socarras, Kim Steele, Maryanne Levesque, Oliver Johnston, the list goes on. From the minute we met, I wished I had grown up with him to always have him in my life.

Two men and a woman stand smiling in front of a stone building facade. The young Black man on the left wears a bright yellow suit, the woman in the middle wears a white suit and holds a black bag and a camera hanging from her wrist, and the young white man on the right wears a black suit and white shirt.

Willi Smith, Laurie Mallet, and Brian Howard at the wedding of Kim Steele and Maryanne Levesque. Nashua, New Hampshire, 1985. Courtesy of Brian Howard


A note written on stationary depicting a caricature drawing of black man with glasses reads "3-87, Dear Brian, I hope you are happy, healthy and busy. Thank you sending me the copy of the Observer. Great story huh! See you soon, Love Willi."

Thank-you note from Willi Smith to Brian Howard, on his Robert Risko stationary, March 1987:
“While Willi was traveling in Portugal, sourcing flannel for his Fall/Winter 1988 collection—promising me a chalk stripe suit—a feature on Willi was published in the London Observer which I sent to him. He replied to me in late March, just a few short weeks before he passed.”
Courtesy of Brian Howard


Grayscale image of Jorge Socarras wearing a loose checkered blazer, white shirt, pants, and bolo tie embracing MaryAnne Levesque in white wedding dress designed by Willi Smith

Jorge Socarras and MaryAnne Levesque in wedding dress designed by Willi Smith, 1985. Courtesy of Kim Steele


White cotton T-Shirt featuring energetic graffiti-style black lines with red dots

WilliWear Productions Keith Haring x LA II T-shirt, ca. 1984. Courtesy of Brian Howard