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.
The Everyday Trench
His spring 1986 collection was a particular standout with models wearing variations of a casual trench paired with equally as forgiving pants and skirts, proving that loose silhouettes could and should exist in the same space.
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
The Micro Mini
Before Smith, the cropped skirt had never been see as everyday wear. However, matching it with a pair of tights, a casual top and an even more casual hoodie, the trailblazer proved that anything could be dressed down.
Getty Images – Bettmann / Contributor
Avant Garde Masterpieces
The name of Smith’s game was comfort, and that even came across with dresses—whether cropped or long. He set the tone for countless unconstructed silhouettes to come, an option we’re still enjoying today.
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
The Modern Bodysuit
Bridging the gap between what could be considered swimwear and what might be regarded as ready-to-wear, Smith’s creation set forth the idea of bodysuits such as this being worn for more than just a day at the beach.
(Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
LBD…. But Make It Cozy
Costing a mere $22, the little black dress was transformed by Smith from something that implied high-end parties into a clothing item that was fitting for even the most casual occasions. The market had never seen anything like this, with its horseshoe-cut neckline and polyester fabric.
Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)