Patrick Kelly (1954-1990)

A reminder that we must always honor Black triumphs throughout history, not just solely in the month of February.

Imagine for a second, you wake up and it’s Paris in 1981. After making your duvet, un petit déjeuner, and enjoying un café that your partner made for you, you make your way out down la Rue Madame and head to Victoire, the high-end boutique that has your new collection on sale. You’re Patrick Kelly, and this collection led you to become one of the most prominent figures in 80’s fashion. 

Born in 1954 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Kelly rapidly ascended to become a pioneer of ready-to-wear fashion. He is known for his trademark miss-matched buttons, minstrel logo and Black pop culture references used throughout his collections. He hustled to become the first American and Black member of the French organization la Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-á-porter, the governing body of the French fashion industry.

Kelly attended Jackson State University for two years, subsequently moving to Atlanta and making ends meet through volunteer work designing window displays for an Yves Saint Laurent boutique. One year after transferring into the Parsons School of Design in New York City, he moved to Paris to pursue his dream of becoming a designer.

His early days in Paris were spent making coats for a small, but ever-expanding portfolio of clients. It wasn’t long until he was introduced to Francoise Chassagnac, a prominent buyer for local boutique Victoire, and mentor to Kelly throughout his career. Chassagnac was so impressed by Kelly’s bright colors and meticulous detailing that she loaned him a workspace and funded the creation of his first collection, “Patrick Kelly in Paris”. The collection was so successful that it landed him a feature in French magazine Elle. It wasn’t long until Patrick Kelly-labelled dresses were selling for $10,000 on 5th Avenue and abroad. His brand grew to international acclaim, hosting distributors from France to Japan. He was adamant about keeping his clothing affordable to all working people, with prices ranging from $35 to the tens-of-thousands. Kelly’s signature logo, a minstrel, was so under-fire that many U.S. stores refused to sell his clothing with the logo. His message was to reclaim previous racist imagery in order to progress.

Unfortunately, Patrick Kelly passed away in 1990 due to complications from living with AIDS. His legacy is still maintained today, as Black designers such as Virgil Abloh and Telfar Clemens sustain the importance of Black culture in their respective work.

Images taken from Google.

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