Max Vadukul

A man taking a photograph wearing a pith helmet, tan shirt with rolled up sleeves, and khaki shorts

When I met Willi, it was an amazing, amazing time to get fashion in your hands, street fashion, real things, you know, and actually do something creative with it and give it some authenticity.

I had just moved to New York, but I didn’t know fashion, didn’t know WilliWear. The chances of us collaborating were unusual. I was born in Kenya; I lived there for nine years. My parents are Indian, and my mother wears a sari. I end up in London, I arrive in America at a certain point, and I meet this guy who tells me that he wants to do a film about his African roots, and he wants to do it in Africa. I thought, “Oh, okay, fine.” I didn’t think anything of it. But that’s how things were back then.

Expedition wasn’t made just to create something beautiful; there was a reason for it. Willi had learned that his family originated in Senegal, and he used the film as a means to understand his history. We cast locals and members of the National Dance Company of Senegal. They were heavily choreographed by myself and the alligator wrestler, so nobody has a normal walk, and nothing is normal about the way anything happens in this story. People walk backwards, they bark when they talk; there’s all kinds of stuff going on there. Willi designed the outfits with Senegal’s colonial past in mind, and he made appearances throughout the film. It was all very, very “ballsy” and quite risky for mainstream fashion.

I can’t think of another example at the time of a fashion collection being put into a narrative film, not even in Paris. I mean, Jean Paul Gaultier is a very forward-thinking designer, but not even he, nor Thierry Mugler or Azzedine Alaïa, did what Willi did. Willi was really quite far ahead in his embrace of film and video. Not that we spent much money. I think we only had 50 grand, which was not a lot. You can blow that on two models in a fashion show, maybe one. It was a really smart way to use a small budget for maximum impact. You could take the film anywhere. It traveled to New York, London. Maybe Paris? I think they got some prizes for it too.

A man taking a photograph wearing a pith helmet, tan shirt with rolled up sleeves, and khaki shorts

Max Vadukul on set, Expedition, Willi Smith for WilliWear, Spring 1986 Collection. Photographed by Mark Bozek, Dakar, Senegal, 1985