Willi Smith always said he was more interested in what pimps wore than businessmen in gray flannel suits. Unfortunately, he lacked their knack for business and his first clothing company, started with his sister Touki when he was twenty-five, quickly failed. Three years later, in 1976, with Laurie Mallet, he tried again and despite not having enough money to buy buttons, and certainly not advertising, their inexpensive WilliWear was a success from the start. After his achievements in women's wear he began to design for men, and his fresh, relaxed style became known as "street couture." But his influence rose to the highest levels of fashion and the top echelons of society. He designed the costumes for Bill T. Jones' dance "Secret Pastures" at BAM in 1984, the volunteers' clothes for Christo and Jean-Claude's wrapping of Pont Neuf in 1985, the groom's and groomsmen's suits for Caroline Kennedy's wedding in 1986, and the costumes for Spike Lee's movie musical School Daze in 1987. That same year his company did $25 million in sales. He could keep his clothes reasonably priced because he used inexpensive fabrics from India, where he spent a month or more each year. On a business trip there in 1987 he contracted shigella and pneumonia, and back in New York, he died of those diseases combined with aids, which he may not have known he had. He was thirty-nine.