|Born||Willi Donnell Smith
February 29, 1948
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,, U.S.
|Died||April 17, 1987
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||AIDS-related pneumonia complicated by shigella|
|Education||Mastbaum Technical High School
University of the Arts
Parsons The New School for Design
|Relatives||Toukie Smith (sister)|
Willi Donnell Smith (February 29, 1948 – April 17, 1987) was an American fashion designer, regarded at the time of his death as one of the most successful young African-American designers in the industry. His company, WilliWear Limited, sold $25 million worth of clothing a year.
Smith was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School and attended Philadelphia College of Art for fashion illustration. He then moved to New York City to go to Parsons The New School for Design, the art and design college of The New School university.
In 1967, Smith quit Parsons to pursue a career designing on his own. In 1969 he designed a label for Digits, a sportswear company. In 1973, Smith, along with his sister Toukie Smith, founded their own clothing company that soon failed. Smith continued to design and in 1976 he went into business with Laurie Mallet and called the company "WilliWear Limited."
He designed the wedding dress worn by Mary Jane Watson when she married Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comic book and comic strip in 1987, and the suits for Edwin Schlossberg and his groomsmen when he married Caroline Kennedy in 1986. Smith also designed the uniforms for the workers on Christo's 1985 wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris and clothes for Spike Lee's film School Daze (1987).
Smith worked with many other designers and artists during his time at WilliWear including Antthony Mark Hankins, James Mischka, Julia Santos-Solomon, Jon Coffelt, John Bartlett and Andre Walker among many others. Smith partnered with Jhane Barnes on some of his earlier shows.
On April 16, 1987, Smith was admitted to Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City after contracting shigella and pneumonia while on a trip to India to buy fabric in February 1987. He died of pneumonia complicated by shigella the following day at the age of 39. According to Smith's lawyer Edward Hayes, Smith's death was AIDS related. Smith was apparently unaware that he had contracted the disease and had shown no symptoms. It was only after he was hospitalized that tests revealed he was HIV positive. Laurie Mallet, Smith's business partner, later said that while the designer was always "fragile" and often too sick to work, she did not feel that he was seriously ill. When asked if Smith had any idea that he had AIDS, Mallet said that Smith never confided this to her, but she felt "maybe he had some idea, some feeling." Smith's funeral was held on April 20 at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan, after which his remains were cremated.  On May 1, 1987, a memorial service was held for Smith at his alma mater, Parsons The New School for Design.
Smith, who was openly gay, has a panel in the original NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Smith is also lamented in a poem '"Speak: A Poem for the Millennium March", by Keith Boykin, read by its author for the Millennium March on Washington for Equality on April 29, 2000.
At the time of Smith's death, WilliWear Limited had experienced problems but was still successful. Smith and his business partner Laurie Mallet had opened a store in London which thrived. Stores in Paris and New York City were opened after Smith's death. Mallet, who was a majority stockholder, vowed to continue the line with the help of a six person design team composed of designers who had previously worked with Smith. However, Mallet struggled to maintain the success the line had when Smith was alive. By 1989, sales had decreased. In November 1989, Mallet hired then up and coming designer Andre Young to design the line's Fall 1990 collection. Upon its debut in April, the line was panned by critics. To save money, Mallet closed the WilliWear stores and tried to generate revenue by convincing chain stores to carry the line. Mallet's efforts failed and, in 1990, the women's division of WilliWear ceased production. Shortly thereafter, the men's division also ceased production.
- Smith earned two scholarships to attend Parsons School of Design in 1965.
- In September 1983, Smith won an American Fashion Critics' Coty Award for women's fashion.
- In 1985, Smith won a Cutty Sark Award for Men's Fashion.
- In 1988, then New York City mayor David Dinkins proclaimed February 23 "Willi Smith Day" in honor of the designer's achievements.<"romero"/>
- In 2002, Smith was honored with a bronze plaque for Fashion Walk of Fame along Seventh Avenue.
- James, George (April 19, 1987). "Willi Smith, Clothes Designer; Creator of Vivid Sportswear". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
- Rapp, Linda (2002), "Smith, Willi", glbtq.com, retrieved 2007-09-19
- Gustines, George Gene. "STYLE; Pow! Kerplow!! Boing!!!," New York Times Magazine (May 4, 2008).
- Belcher, Jerry (April 20, 1987). "Pioneered 'Street Couture' : Fashion Designer Willi Smith Dies at 39". Los Angeles Times. latimes.com. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
- Smith, Marguerite T. (May 17, 1987). "Sustaining Williwear's Spirit". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
- "Fashion Designer Willi Smith Had AIDS, His Attorney Says". Los Angeles Times. latimes.com. April 24, 1987. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
- Buck, Genevieve (April 29, 1987). "Though The `Real` Willi Is Gone, Williwear Plans To Forge Ahead.". Chicago Tribune. chicagotribune.com. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
- Gates, Henry Louis; Appiah, Anthony (1999), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Basic Civitas Books, p. 774, ISBN 0-465-00071-1
- Knight, Christopher (October 4, 1992). "Art: Commentary: A Stitch in Time : The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt returns to Washington, its 21,000 panels casting a shadow that reaches the White House". Los Angeles Times. latimes.com. p. 2. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
- Hawkins, Timothy (February 23, 1990). "Toukie Smith Puts New Angles on Style". Los Angeles Times. latimes.com. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
- Walls, Jeanette (June 11, 1990). "Strapped Williwear Hangs By a Thread". New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. 23 (23): 14. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Romero, Elena (2012). Free Stylin': How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry. ABC-CLIO. p. 44. ISBN 0-313-38646-3.
- Duka, John (September 30, 1983). "Coty Winners: Smith and Flusser". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
- Price Alford, Holly; Stegemeyer, Anne (2014). Who's Who In Fashion. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. XLIII. ISBN 1-609-01969-5.