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Behold: Five Fashion Moments That Prove Willi Smith Is The Founder Of Modern Streetwear

The legacy of the fashion icon is being showcased at the Cooper Hewitt in New York City through late October.
By Blake Newby · June 15, 2021

There’s only one man who is responsible for modern streetwear fashion as we know it: Willi Smith. The late fashion designer, who had a two-decade career crafting silhouettes and garments that were actually for everyday wear—in contrast to the elevated haute couture that dominated the runways of the time—has undoubtedly changed the way we see fashion forever.

Now, more than 34 years after his untimely death, his legacy, which has unfortunately but not surprisingly been minimized and underappreciated, is being celebrated with a one-of-a-kind exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum in New York City. The display will run through October 24, and you’ll be able to view firsthand the apparel that shocked the industry, changed the way the world saw fashion pairings and set the tone for so many more looks and designers to come.

Here we’ve rounded up five of Smith’s most iconic creations that prove that “streetwear couture” wouldn’t be a fraction of what it is today without his influence.

WilliWear Spring 1986 Presentation, 1985, Courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology|SUNY, FIT Library Special Collections and College Archives, New York, NY, USA; © Peter Gould
Getty Images - Bettmann / Contributor
Willi Smith for WilliWear, Spring 1986 Presentation, Photographed by Peter Gould, 1985. Courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology | SUNY, FIT Library Special Collections and College Archives; Peter L. Gould / Images
(Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)