• Solange McKenzie

Patrick Kelly: Creating Inclusivity in Fashion


Patrick Kelly

Patrick Kelly was an African-American designer who was prominent during the 80's. Not only was he known for his energetic designs but for his commitment to all around inclusivity.


Patrick Kelly, Campaign photo circa 1988-89

Kelly came from humble beginnings. He would sell his designs as well as designer goods that he up-cycled from a shop located in a beauty salon. He would acquire these designer goods from the thrift shop where he worked in order to support himself. In 1979, he crossed paths with supermodel, Pat Cleveland, who loved his designs. Cleveland influenced Kelly when she suggested he move to New York City to further his career as a designer. Shortly after he would relocate to Paris. It was in Paris where Kelly designed his signature dress, the Slinky Dress and found the success he was looking for. Kelly also began selling his designs in Victoire boutiques located Paris in 1985. The store's buyer loved the energy of Kelly's designs and how this energy matched his personality. At the same time, he landed a six-page spread in Elle Magazine, Paris, which opened the doors for him even more. He began to dress clients such as Bette Davis, Madonna, Paloma Picasso, Grace Jones, and Cicely Tyson. Kelly also collaborated with David Spada, a jewelry designer. This opportunity led to his most famous design heavily inspired by Josephine Baker's Banana skirt, which is currently on display in Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Josephine Baker inspired Banana Skirt, Patrick Kelly, 1985

Two years later, in 1987, Warnaco Conglomerate partnered with Kelly to manufacture, allowing him to sell clothes in stores worldwide which sky rocketed sales. Kelly was then accepted into Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1988 with the help of designer Sonia Rykiel. Because of this, his label gained more legitimacy and put him on the same level of Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Christian Dior, who were also members. Kelly was also the first American designer in join the organization.


Black dress adorned with red lip brooches

In addition to all Kelly's accomplishments, he also believed in inclusivity. Not only did he design for all body types and included a pregnant model in one of his shows, but he included black culture in his designs. Often times, Kelly took images that were used negatively against African-Americans and reclaimed them. These images of race and heritage were at the center of his designs. At the peak of his success, he became ill with HIV/AIDS and passed in 1990 but his legacy lives on with many museums, such as The Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jackson State University's museum and the Schomburg Center, have had exhibits featuring Kelly's influential work.


-Solange McKenzie



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