Person

Stephen Burrows

Grayscale photograph of two Black men standing together, smiling. Both men wear glasses; the man on the left wears a shimmering suit with a button-up shirt; the man on the right wears a striped button-up shirt with a white jacket and dress pants.

I first met Willi at a party in the Pines on Fire Island in 1968. Most of the designers hung out there every weekend. I had heard about him through mutual model friends, and Willi and I became fast friends from then on.

He was a very talented designer/artist who was part of what the New York fashion press had dubbed the New York “youthquake” movement because of all the new young designers who were emerging during that time.

Willi did streetwear (sportswear as it was known then) better than most and was recognized early on as “king of sportswear.” He was influenced by how people on the street put themselves together and would funk it up, making his basics chic and fun to wear. Willi was a major mover on that level, and I saw him as the “chic funkmaster of fashion.” No one did it like WilliWear did it!

I see Willi’s influence all over the world now. In fashion today, the big sellers are all sportswear-driven companies, and he deserves recognition for having that vision of fashion, as it has become today, back in the sixties and seventies.

Grayscale photograph of two Black men standing together, smiling. Both men wear glasses; the man on the left wears a shimmering suit with a button-up shirt; the man on the right wears a striped button-up shirt with a white jacket and dress pants.

Stephen Burrows and Willi Smith. Photographed by Bill Cunningham, ca. 1975