Person

Vicente Wolf

Photograph of Willi Smith dressed as a character from Expedition film wearing a white helmet and all-white ensemble

I met Willi Smith in the late 1970s when my late partner, Bob Patino, and I designed his apartment on Horatio Street. From the first moment we met Willi, his personality was contagious, sweet, visionary, and unassuming.

When the project was completed, our friendship began. Willi’s commitment to art was fully revealed to us when he collaborated with Christo, designing workers’ uniforms for the wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris.

Willi’s personal style was synonymous with wearing understated khaki and tan colors—yet with flamboyance to his personality. He had a reserved personality, balanced by his willingness to poke fun at himself and not take himself too seriously. This was best expressed in the short film Expedition, which Willi created for WilliWear, that showcased his Spring 1986 collection on professional models interwoven with him acting in different roles.

Working with Willi helped us to open our eyes to new ideas. In 1979, we traveled to Trivandrum, India, with him for Christmas and checked into a resort hotel—though the word “resort” would not be a word to describe this hotel. For one, the bed in the room was missing a leg. We were told that if this was not acceptable, then they would locate a bed with four legs. Later, we went to a Christmas Eve party where the “art of karate” was displayed by a man cutting off the head of a chicken with one swift chop. On another day, when we went to the beach, the attendant handed Willi a towel that he had just taken from another bather. Willi looked at the attendant curiously, who then said, with a surprised tone, “Oh, you wanted a clean one?” Throughout all of these comedies of errors, Willi could not stop laughing and shrugged his shoulders, saying, “That’s India.”

Willi Smith on the beach holding a small child dressed in WilliWear

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


Photograph of Willi Smith dressed as a character from Expedition film wearing a white helmet and all-white ensemble

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