Willi Smith: On the Record

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American designer Willi Smith (1948-1987) hoped to solve what he called “the problem of getting dressed,” or the disconnect between fashion and diverse lifestyles, by using affordable, adaptable clothing as a tool to liberate people from stereotypes of race, class, sex, and gender. Smith’s brand WilliWear relied on collaborations with artists like Bill T. Jones, Nam June Paik, and Christo and Jeanne Claude to illustrate how fashion basics could perform for the wearer in different contexts and serve a spectrum of experiences.

Cooper Hewitt hosts this conversation among writers and editors whose work has tracked Smith’s contribution to a contemporary fashion ethos that wants to celebrate both individual expression and equity. The speakers discuss Smith’s interdisciplinary process, fusion of art and industry, use of mass media, and efforts to bring Queer culture to the national mainstream.