28 Days of Black Fashion History: Patrick Kelly

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Patrick Kelly is an American fashion designer. A native of Mississippi, Kelly was heavily influenced by his southern roots, both the empowering as well as the harsh realities. His signature button dresses were a tribute to his grandmother who replaced missing buttons on his clothing with brightly colored ones. And his penchant for ornamentation stemmed from the Southern ladies going to church in their “Sunday best.”

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Two of Patrick Kelly’s designs incorporating his signature mismatched button applique.

He sometimes incorporated controversial elements as well like watermelon hats, black baby brooches, and golliwog faces (an element that eventually became his logo). His partner, Bjorn Amelan, believed it was Kelly’s way of addressing the racism he experienced growing up, adopting the images and making them into something that empowered rather than disenfranchised.

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(Left) A few of Patrick Kelly’s designs, incorporating the golliwog into an accessory and a print on the dress. (Right) A black baby brooch which Patrick handed out to many of his guests and clients.

He found his greatest success after moving to Paris in the 1980s, producing collections of flamboyant and highly embellished garments that became favorites of numerous celebrities like Cicely Tyson, Grace Jones, Bette Davis, Isabella Rossellini and Jane Seymour.

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Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, photo by Roxanne Lowit, 1989

Did you know that Patrick Kelly was the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter (the governing body of the prestigious French ready-to-wear industry). He is also one of an elite group of designers to show his collection at the Louvre Palace. In typical Patrick Kelly carefree style, he did a spoof on the Mona Lisa called “Lisa Loves the Louvre.”

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His success was short lived due to his untimely death in 1990. However, Patrick Kelly made a tremendous mark on the fashion world and inspired many designers after him.

 

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