It was my mother who introduced me to Willi Smith. I grew up in Corinth, Mississippi, during the early eighties, and she kept her sewing machine bag in my bedroom closet. She gave me the McCall’s pattern 7720 and told me that Willi Smith was a Black man taking over the fashion world —that he’d made it “BIG.” I was super excited, but I didn’t have the right fabric just yet.
One day, I was with my PawPaw Louis, driving into town, when we saw Fred Lewis out racking the yard. Fred was this old Black man that “lived in a shoe”—meaning he was a hoarder—like FA REAL, he kept everything. We pulled up behind Fred Lewis’s dirty car and parked. PawPaw goes walking up the driveway, as I jumped out of the car. “Hey Fred, man . . . Pabby here movin’ up to Chi-Town! Fashion design school, ain’t that right, Pabby?”
Fred Lewis yells out, “Oh, okay . . . the big city!” then motions for me and PawPaw Louis to follow him to the trunk of his car. He pops the trunk—it’s packed with books, eight-track cassettes, albums, sodas, old sport coats, and lots of fabrics. He goes digging around, then he pulls out about two yards of dark charcoal gray flannel wool and hands it to me.
“Okay, Pat, here you go, son . . . now this here is rich folks’ material—it’s flannel. I’ve been savin’ it up for a long time, but now this here’s for you.”
I used that WilliWear pattern to make myself a jacket. I still remember the reaction my homegirl Wendy had once she saw me at school. She was like, “Oh my God, you’re gonna be famous one day! Let me get a picture now so you don’t forget about me!”