This exhibition was on display from March 13, 2020 to October 24, 2021.

There were 158 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 137 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.

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During his twenty-year career Willi Smith (1948–1987) united fashion and American culture, marrying affordable, adaptable basics with avant-garde performance, film, art, and design. Smith hoped to solve what he called "the problem of getting dressed," or the lack of control fashion afforded the everyday person, by using clothing as a tool for the liberation of stereotypes around race, class, sex, and gender, and bringing art into the mainstream. In the wake of the 1974 recession and Vietnam War, Smith founded WilliWear Ltd. with business and creative partner Laurie Mallet to produce clothing, events, and experiences with a wide range of collaborators who used new technologies and progressive ideas to transform their creative fields and instigate social change. At the time of his sudden death from AIDS-related illness, Smith was considered to be the most commercially successful Black American designer of the 20th century and a pioneer of "street couture"—fashion inspired by the creativity of people from the cities to the suburbs that captured the egalitarian spirit of the age. Willi Smith: Street Couture surveys Smith’s pathbreaking imagination of an inclusive, collaborative, and playful new society.


SITE, in collaboration with Sam Chermayeff Office, designed this exhibition to recall the WilliWear showrooms and boutiques. Conceived by SITE partners Alison Sky and James Wines from 1982–1987, these retail experiences were composed of construction materials and objects salvaged from the sidewalks of New York City, bringing the improvisational energy of the street indoors as a framework for sales, events, and installations.

  • Installation
  • plaster, cotton.
  • Recreated for this exhibition with permission from MoMA PS1; original....
  • s-e-3210
  • Tearsheet
  • print on paper.
  • ©The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.
  • s-e-3253
  • Photograph, Willi Smith
  • digital print on paper.
  • © Martine Barrat - Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  • s-e-3293
  • Coat
  • waxed cotton.
  • 65.2019.2
  • Vest
  • cotton.
  • 64.2019.1
  • Shirt, 1980s
  • cotton.
  • Courtesy of private collection.
  • 8.2019.5
  • Pants
  • cotton.
  • 65.2019.3
  • Runway Video
  • 15:52 minutes.
  • © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence.
  • s-e-3264
  • Publicity Photograph
  • digital print on paper.
  • Photography by Max Vadukul; courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center....
  • s-e-3243
  • Description
  • offset lithograph on paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.13
  • Poster
  • offset lithograph on newsprint mounted on board.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell.
  • 60.2019.2
  • Press Kit
  • offset lithograph on coated paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.14
  • Press Kit
  • offset lithograph on coated paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.15
  • Invitation
  • offset lithograph on paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.12
  • Poster
  • offset lithograph on newsprint.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell.
  • 60.2019.1
  • Runway Video
  • 12:14 minutes.
  • Courtesy of Paul Tschinkel, Inner-Tube Video.
  • s-e-3261
  • Runway Invitation
  • offset lithograph on paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.8
  • Runway Invitation
  • offset lithograph on paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.9
  • Press Folder
  • offset lithograph on paper.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.10
  • Coat
  • cotton.
  • 65.2019.5
  • Jumper, 1984
  • cotton.
  • Courtesy of The Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University,....
  • 35.2019.2a,b
  • Runway Video
  • 10:18 minutes.
  • Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • 55.2019.2
  • Publicity Photograph
  • digital print on paper.
  • Photography by Max Vadukul; courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center....
  • s-e-3232
  • Poster
  • offset lithograph on newsprint.
  • Courtesy of Bill Bonnell papers, Vignelli Center for Design Studies,....
  • 27.2019.1
  • Publicity Photograph
  • digital print on paper.
  • Photography by Max Vadukul, Courtesy of Mark Bozek.
  • s-e-3239