Om Batheja

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

I had the privilege of working with Willi Smith and Laurie Mallet from the time they launched WilliWear Ltd. in December 1975, through the close of the company.

I worked behind the scenes on the non-fashion side of the business.

Like everyone who came to know Willi, I came to admire, cherish, and love Willi tremendously. In these behind-the-scenes everyday interactions with him, I saw a kind, sensitive, loving, and very generous person. He had a love for beautiful things, and every so often, he would share his treasures from his trips to India and elsewhere with his colleagues out of sheer generosity.

Willi loved life. He enjoyed life with zest and energy. He had a wonderful sense of humor and could have us in stitches during lunch or dinner when he talked about people and events.

He was very sociable and would often hang out with his friends at the cool places. He admired and respected talent in others and collaborated with artists in art, music, dance, and theater. Willi, in turn, was liked and admired by artists in these fields. I remember once our team went to lunch at Mr. Chow. Andy Warhol was there with Jean-Michel Basquiat. When Willi went to greet them, Andy quickly sketched something on a dinner plate and presented it to him.

Willi loved his family dearly. He was especially close to his sister Toukie, his mother, grandmother, and his brother Norman.

He accepted and loved people fully. Sometimes, if he was piqued by someone, he would typically start, “Love her as I do—and you know I love her dearly . . .”

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.

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

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