Person

Joseph Delate

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

Life is funny. After hearing about the Willi Smith Archive project, I was completely re-inspired by Willi Smith’s legacy. Willi Smith is one of my favorite designers.

As I was finding my personal style-identity at a very young age, I used fashion as a shield. It was my armor protecting me from a world not quite ready to accept a clothing-obsessed Queer/gay teenage boy in the early eighties. WilliWear’s oversized everyday-for-everyone silhouettes, cut from classic fabrics, closely matched the personal style that I had been fine-tuning in my grandfather’s closet. I was literally saving Grandpop’s amazing tweed coats, tuxedos, and the chunkiest of shoes from being sent to the Goodwill. This jumpstarted my lifelong love of vintage, sustainable clothing. Willi was my introduction to streetwear style and made me feel like I belonged in the world. It made me feel secure and able to go anywhere life took me.

I saved many images for my personal archive, remembering amazing times in my formative years wearing WilliWear.  Bloomingdale’s (my safe space now and then) was my favorite place to shop WilliWear. My family felt comfortable with my purchases because of Willi’s tailoring, and that I was uptown and not running around the Village. This amazing photo of my soon-to-be future best friend, model Kim Williams, popped up while doing my personal research. The universe gives us many signs and constantly offers us inspiration; we just need to be open and look for these signs. Everything comes full circle; the trick to a happy life is how long we choose to keep it spinning. This photo means so much to me. My best friend, a few years before we met, modeling my favorite designer. Both are a huge part of my personal-style history. This was a defining moment, confirming all I believe and hold close. It was already documented and now has been cemented in Willi Smith’s history.

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