In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn’t hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.
Willow Smith is a singer and actor based in Los Angeles. She currently co-hosts the Facebook Live talkshow Red Table Talk alongside her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, and grandmother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris.
Where are you now, and what are you wearing?
I’m in Seattle, and I’m wearing a smaller version of a button-down shirt in forest green—almost a crop top—and a skirt. Normally I’m a pants girl, but I was feeling a little frisky today.
How would you describe being an Original?
The main characteristic of an Original is an ability to think outside the box, to hold your ground, and to uplift others by your example. I’ve always felt different. And sometimes I’ve felt estranged from my peers because I was interested in things like the cosmos and history at a young age. I would talk about these things, and my friends’ parents would tell my parents that I was scaring their kids. So after a while, I learned to tone it down. I realized that there are people who accept originality and some people who are afraid of what it may mean to their lives.
Even when you were very young, you were fully formed and sophisticated.
No! I don’t think I’ll ever be fully formed! I used to play a game with my dad where he’d go online and pick any factoid, and I’d keep asking him, “Why? Why that fact? Why that idea? Why?” And he’d try and explain it to me, but I always wanted to excavate the layers in my own way. That game shaped the way I still think.
As a young girl, did you ever shop your mom’s closet?
My mom is now very feminine, and I’m not really into heels, makeup, or any of that. But my mom, in her youth, influenced the androgynous way I dress. Back then she was a tomboy—think of her as Peaches in A Low Down Dirty Shame! She was in baggy jeans and T-shirts, which is the ’90s boyish look that’s now coming back big-time. That era of my mom’s dressing will always be inspiring to me.
Were you ever obsessed with wearing any particular item of clothing?
When I was 7, there were these white, black, red, and blue checkered patent leather boots that I loved so much. They had a tiny square heel, and those boots were my favorite thing. But I’ve always lived in woodsy places, and those boots did not survive. Too pretty to live!
Do you have a particular look now?
I love the film Sin City a lot, and I try to be a Sin City girl. Especially when I go to an event, I try to emulate one of the women in that film. I wear everything dark, put on my Dr. Martens boots and an amazing trenchcoat that is made by Max Mara, I think, and is wonderfully oversize. When I put that outfit on, I feel like a star.
Growing up, did you want to dress like your brothers?
One hundred percent. I wanted to be doing whatever Jaden was doing. I wanted to dress like him, be like him, hang out with him. But brothers want to have their own time. I think Jaden was also trying to shield me from the crazy shit.
Who do you think is an Original?
Ani DiFranco. Octavia Butler, although she’s no longer with us. And my mom and dad.
Your dad is really impressive on Instagram.
Yes, he saw how Jaden and I were connecting with youth on Instagram, and he started to post these great videos. Now he practically has his own TV network on Instagram! I love his creativity, but I am somewhat wary of social media. Instagram is a haven for the treachery of our minds. I don’t want to only post pretty pictures of myself. I want to be a source of inspiration on Instagram—let people know books that I am reading and ideas that I want to share.
Do you think you’re an Original?
I try to be fearless, and Originals are fearless. We all want to change the world, even if it seems impossible.