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*Willi Smith was born on this date in 1948. He was one of the most successful Black fashion designers in history.
He was also the brother of actress and model Toukie Smith. After studying commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School in Philadelphia, Willi Donnell Smith enrolled at the Philadelphia College of Art to study fashion illustration in 1962. It was during this time Smith decided he wanted to be a fashion designer. He earned two scholarships to the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1965. There he began doing freelance work for the designer Arnold Scaasi and the Bobbie Brooks sportswear company.
In 1967 he left school to pursue his career full-time. By 1969 his name was on the label of clothing made by Digits, a sportswear company. Smith eventually created his own company and line of clothes (Williwear). At its peak, his company Williwear Ltd. sold $25 million worth of clothing a year. He also 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 1987 film School Daze (1987). Active in the Gay community, Smith died at the relatively young age of 39 on April 17, 1987, after contracting pneumonia as a result of AIDS.
Linda Rapp, author,
Claude J. Summers, general editor,
GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture,
Publication Date: 2002