Parson’s Design School alum and openly gay Philadelphia designer Willi Donnell Smith launched WilliWear in 1975 — a move that would launch his career and make him an institution in fashion design.
He was commissioned to design the clothing for a wide range of people and occasions, including work and construction uniforms, Caroline Kennedy’s wedding, Spike Lee film School Daze, and the Spiderman comic strip. He is quoted saying, “I don’t design clothes for the queen, but the people who wave at her as she goes by.”
Smith’s commitment to making fashion daring and attainable led him to father street couture: a movement in fashion characterized by playful and brightly colored clothing combinations that were both accessible to the every man and highly coveted by the wealthy elite.
Smith is the youngest person to be nominated by for a Coty Fashion Critics’ Award and at the time of his death, his designs grossed over 25 million dollars a year. Although he passed away nearly thirty years ago, his influence on the fashion industry and modern swathe is undoubtedly timeless.