Person

Christa D’Souza

Photo of a woman and man leaning against each other, back-to-back, in colorful patterned clothing with text stating “Willi Smith” painted on a backdrop behind them.

I first started working at WilliWear in 1983 as a receptionist at the front desk in the showroom on 37th Street.

Newly graduated from Brown University, I was completely starstruck not just by Willi—who was the epitome of style in his trademark beret, Cutler & Gross spectacles, and WilliWear hi-tops—but by the characters who wandered in and out. Keith Haring, Jeanne-Claude and Christo, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name but a few. Then there were the models. I remember a very shy Naomi Campbell, only 16, coming in for a “go-see” with her mother. Willi Smith’s shows were the ticket in the early to mid-1980s. In those days, the showroom always felt like a bit of a party, especially as the day wore on. I still remember Willi’s laugh and his droll sense of humor—he did a marvelous impression of Diana Ross when she was still in the Supremes.

There are so many memories of my time working at WilliWear between 1983 and 1987. An enduring image, though, is of him and his bulldog Rufus or “Rufie.” Willi loved that dog, and all the models loved him, too—Naomi Campbell, Alva Chinn, Cindy Crawford, Veronica Webb, and so on. I still have a mental image of Willi walking Rufus down 38th Street, and Rufus just plopping himself down on the sidewalk, refusing to go any further. He just didn’t want to budge. He was very portly, even by a bulldog’s standards. Joy, Willi’s wonderful personal assistant at the time, may have been called down to help. Had Willi wrapped round his little finger, that dog.

Photo of a woman and man leaning against each other, back-to-back, in colorful patterned clothing with text stating “Willi Smith” painted on a backdrop behind them.

Christa D’Souza and Mark Bozek wearing outfits from the Spring 1985 WilliWear Sightseeing Collection, 1984


Black and white cover of WilliWear News with image of Willi Smith smiling and holding his English bulldog Rufus

WilliWear News, Summer 1986 Collection, 1986