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The 25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers

Willi Smith

Design Credits: WilliWear

The late-great Willi Smith (he died of AIDS in 1987) designed comfortable and inexpensive sportswear for men and women all over America under his label, Willi Wear. The Philadelphia-native, who eventually moved to New York City's SoHo neighborhood, kept his eye on the arts scene and was often inspired by street culture, which is why his work was often referred to as "Street Couture."

His collections usually included plenty of colors and prints (some consider him to be the first to mix and match plaids, stripes, and colors, especially in menswear). He also won the Coty American Fashion Critics' Award for Women's Fashion in 1983. WilliWear was a huge success; it was sold in more than 500 shops, and eventually helped him land a few other gigs. Said gigs included designing Mary Jane's wedding gown in a Spider-Man comic, as well as outfitting the cast of Spike Lee's classic, School Daze. Long live Willi Smith.

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