American designer working in Paris
Born: Vicksburg, Mississippi, 24 September 1954. Education: Studied art history and black history at Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, and fashion design at Parsons School of Design, New York. Career: Held various jobs in Atlanta, Georgia, including window dresser, Rive Gauche boutique; instructor, Barbizon School of Modeling; vintage clothing store proprietor, mid-1970s; moved to Paris, 1980; costume designer, Le Palais club, early 1980s; also freelance designer, 1980-90; Patrick Kelly, Paris, formed, and first ready-to-wear collection introduced, 1985; freelance sportswear designer, Benetton, 1986; opened first boutique in Paris, produced first couture collection, sold worldwide rights to ready-to-wear collections, 1987. Died: 1 January 1990, in Paris.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition , New York, 1996.
Cocks, Jay, "The Color of New Blood: Some Snazzy Duds from Three Upstarts," Time, 10 November 1986.
Bain, Sally, "The King of Cling," in the Drapers Record (London), 16 May 1987.
Johnson, Bonnie, "In Paris, His Slinky Dresses Have Made Mississippi-born Designer Patrick Kelly the New King of Cling," in People, 15 June 1987.
George, Leslie, "Patrick Kelly: An American in Paris," in WWD, 15January 1988.
Whitaker, Charles, "Black Designer Dazzles Paris," Ebony, February 1988.
Gross, Michael, "Kelly's Blackout," in New York, 23 May 1988.
Conant, Jennet, "Buttons and Billiard Balls: A Designer from the Deep South Captures Paris," in Newsweek (New York), 27 June 1988.
"Meet Patrick Kelly," in Vogue Patterns (New York and London), July 1988.
Dissly, Megan, in Christian Science Monitor, 25 August 1988.
Hornblower, Margot, "An Original American in Paris," in Time, 3April 1989.
Goodwin, Betty, "Maverick and Mastermind," in the Los Angeles Times, 7 April 1989.
Johnson, Pamela, "Patrick Kelly: Prince of Paris," in Essence, May 1989.
"Glitz Tips: Do-it-Yourself Ideas from Glitzmeister Patrick Kelly," in Chatelaine (Toronto), September 1989.
Gross, Michael, "Patrick Kelly: Exuberant Style Animates the American Designer's Paris Atelier," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), September 1989.
"Patrick Kelly" (obituary), in the New York Times, 2 January 1990.
Moore, Jackie, "Patrick Kelly" (obituary), in The Independent (London), 11 January 1990.
"Designer Dies," in DR: The Fashion Business (London), 13 January 1990.
"Mississippi Couturier," in U.S. News and World Report (Washington), 15 January 1990.
"Designer Patrick Kelly Dies of Bone Marrow Disease," in Jet (New York), 22 January 1990.
"Patrick Kelly," in Current Biography (New York), March 1990.
Articles also in Women's Wear Daily (New York), 3 January 1990 and 2 April 1990.
According to a "Love List" published in Women's Wear Daily in March 1990, designer Patrick Kelly adored fried chicken, foie gras, and pearls. Kelly's designs celebrated pride in his spiritual upbringing in the American South and a tourist-like adoration of Paris. Not for the faint-hearted, his specialty was form-fitting knits irreverently decorated with oversized and mismatched buttons, watermelons, black baby dolls, and huge rhinestones densely silhouetting the Eiffel Tower.
Wearing too-big overalls and a biker's cap emblazoned "Paris," Kelly engendered folklore as important as the clothing he designed. Growing up in Mississippi where he was taught sewing by his grandmother, Kelly later sold vintage clothing in Atlanta, and failed to be hired on New York's Seventh Avenue. He bought a one-way ticket to Paris from a model/friend and the trip resulted in his being discovered while selling his own designs in a Paris flea market.
Kelly was exotic and different. He and his clothing charmed the French and the rest of the world, and he was the first American ever admitted to the elite Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the group of Paris-based designers permitted to show collections in the Louvre. Exuberantly witty, his first show at the Louvre began with Kelly spray painting a large red heart on a white canvas, and included dresses entitled "Jungle Lisa Loves Tarzan," a spoof of Mona Lisa featuring leopard-print gowns.
Kelly's designs remained unpretentious yet sexy, affordable while glamorous. Dresses were fun and uncontrived, yet Kelly paid great attention to design details. Bold, theatrical details such as white topstitching on black, low necklines, and dice buttons on a pin-striped business dress, silver fringe on a western skirt, and vibrant color combinations make one want to shimmy just looking at them. Kelly's art was in embellishment of women, young and old. Trims become jewelry; collars and hemlines become frames. Frills are exaggerated, enlarged, unexpected, and rethought, saucily decorating what would otherwise be rather simple designs.
A love-in atmosphere prevailed at an April 1989 show and lecture for students at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. A standing-room-only crowd screamed, laughed, and applauded Kelly— his effervescence and his happiness were contagious. He showed a sassy and smart collection, including a tight black mini dress with shiny multicolored buttons outlining a perfect heart on the buttocks; wide, notched, off-the-shoulder collars; leopard-print trench coats and turtlenecked body suits; multicolored scarves suspended from the hip, swaying below abbreviated hemlines; and a trompe l'oeil bustier of buttons on a fitted mini dress. Kelly's models danced, even smiled, down the catwalk, delighted to be wearing his clothing (they modeled this show for free). The audience was delighted to be there: the clothing and designer seemed to be welcoming everyone to a good party, and everyone had a good time.
Kelly's personal attention to detail, his love of design, his spirit, sold his clothing. He stated "the ultimate goal is selling," but he did more than just sell. Wearing a Patrick Kelly dress meant embracing one's past, doing the best with what you have, triumphing over failure, and laughing at oneself. One could be part of Patrick Kelly's fairy tale and celebrate his joie de vivre . Kelly died too young, at age 35, of a brain tumor and bone-marrow disease, in Paris.