Just (Some) Friends

Grayscale image of a group of people posing for a photograph and holding giant letters spelling out “FRIENDS”

Laurie Mallet was the cofounder and president of WilliWear. Mallet and Smith established the brand together in 1976, with Smith serving as vice president and lead designer. The pair met while Mallet was on a break from school at Institut d’études politiques (Institute of Political Studies) in Paris, and Smith was working as the lead designer for the junior sportswear label Digits. The two instantly sparked a friendship. 

“When I met Willi, I was immediately in awe of him: handsome, funny, extraordinarily stylish, not fitting any of my social classical criteria. He asked me to become his assistant at Digits and I entered into a new world.” Laurie Mallet 


Bethann Hardison met Smith 1967 when Smith stopped her on the street and invited her to work with him as a fit model. They became lifelong friends. After establishing her modeling agency Bethann Management in 1984, Hardison sent models to Smith and Mallet for WilliWear runway shows and photoshoots. 

“Willi and I loved each other. We had so much in common—same aesthetic and same ethics. He loved my style. I loved his conscious good manners. He believed in me. He spotted me on the street and felt that I had something special.” —Bethann Hardison 


Christo and JeanneClaude met Smith in 1967 after being introduced through impresario Harrison Rivera-Terreaux. Smith designed uniforms for workers installing two Christo and JeanneClaude works, Surrounded Islands in 1983 and The Pont Neuf Wrapped in 1985. Christo also contributed to WilliWear Productions’ artist T-shirt collection in 1984. 


Ed Schlossberg contributed to WilliWear Productions artist T-shirt collaboration in 1984. In 1986, Schlossberg asked Smith to design suits for him and his ushers for his wedding to Caroline Kennedy. Smith, Mallet, and then communications director for WilliWear Mark Bozek received personal invitations to the wedding, designed by Schlossberg. 

“Willi Smith was an astonishing person—he was really tuned in to both the people around him and the environments around the people . . .  It was a very happy day when I wore the suit he designed for my wedding to Caroline, and he made me feel great wearing it. I was so lucky that Laurie Mallet and Mark Bozek introduced me to him.” —Ed Schlossberg 


Kim Hastreiter was Smith’s neighbor when he lived in his loft on Lispenard Street. Hastreiter and creative partner David Hershkovits were developing the now iconic Paper Magazine in 1984 when Hastreiter showed Smith the early designs for the zine. Smith and Mallet were instant supporters and offered advice and funding for the early publication. Smith and Mallet later created WilliWear News, a seasonal foldout in which they could present the inspiration behind WilliWear collections, share interests, and provide a platform for WilliWear’s creative collaborators. Hastreiter published two issues of WilliWear News for Summer 1986 and Fall 1986 through Paper Publishing Co. and also served as the editor for both issues. 

“Willi and I became fast friends. I began going to his fashion shows, dinner parties downstairs, meeting his friends, turning him onto mine, helping him navigate the neighborhood and the downtown underground art scene, while he would invite me to fancy events, whether dinner at Mr. Chow or openings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music . . .” —Kim Hastreiter 


Dan Friedman was an American artist and designer and close friend of Smith. Friedman participated in the artist T-shirt collection for WilliWear Productions in 1984, and designed furniture for not only  Smith’s home but also the WilliWear Paris store, which opened in 1987. Friedman’s designs for the WilliWear Paris store expressed his versatility as a graphic designer, product designer, and artist.  


Alison Sky cofounded the architecture and environmental design studio SITE with fellow creatives James Wines, Emilio Sousa, and Michelle Stone in 1970. Smith and Mallet hired the firm to design the WilliWear showroom after admiring SITE’s work for a Rizzoli Bookstore window display at 1133 Broadway in 1980. From 1980 to 1987, SITE designed five spaces for WilliWear—in New York, the men’s and women’s showrooms at 209 West 38th Street and the WilliWear boutique at 119 Fifth Avenue; in Los Angeles, the WilliWear men’s showroom; and in London, the WilliWear boutique at Harrods.

 “When we asked where [Willi’s] inspiration came from, he told us it’s from watching people on the street. When he said that, it was so evocative that he didn’t have to say more.” Alison Sky 


Om Batheja worked with Smith and Mallet at WilliWear from the time they launched WilliWear, in December 1975, through the close of the company. On his shoulders in this photograph is his daughter Amrita, for whom Willi Smith created a thoughtful baby basket when she was born. 

“A very special and endearing memory my wife and I have of Willi was at the time our first daughter Amrita was born. Willi had handpicked a collection of the most beautiful items for the baby, arranged them in a beautiful basket, and visited us at home. Each item was beautiful—blanket, toys, shoes, clothes. We could tell that he put a lot of thought and time into preparing the basket. We remember wondering in gratitude how someone so busy and active could invest so much time to celebrate a beautiful event in our lives.” —Om Batheja


Mark Bozek served as head of communications at WilliWear for seven years. In addition to this essential role, Bozek also served as executive producer for the 1985 WilliWear short film Expedition, directed by Max Vadukul. 

“Willi taught me how to be relentlessly curious, to be cool, to be a friend, and what it was like to be around someone who took immense pride in his work. But what I’ll remember most, beyond his creative genius, were his endless fits of laughter at the spectacle of life.” —Mark Bozek

In 1988, friends of Willi Smith came together in support of the opening of the first US WilliWear shop at 19th Street and 5th Avenue in New York. In the shop, a corner was dedicated to representing the creative WilliWear family, selling products from SITE jewelry to Paper T-shirts and the WilliWear film Expedition directed by Max Vadukul. This image was published in a 1988 issue of Paper magazine.

Just (Some) Friends. Photographed by Sergio Purtell, *Paper* magazine, 1988

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