Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love

Labels are grouped by gallery or location at the museum. Select the name of a section to see the labels.

A one-way ticket from supermodel Pat Cleveland brought American designer Patrick Kelly to Paris in 1979 to try his luck at high fashion. Kelly spent several years freelancing as a designer, and by 1985 created Patrick Kelly Paris with his business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan. The American apparel company Warnaco signed the designer in 1987, and in 1988 Kelly became the first American and first Black designer elected to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. Kelly’s meteoric rise, from selling his designs on the streets of Paris to admission into this prestigious fraternity of ready-to-wear designers, was unprecedented and remains unmatched.

Kelly chose not to reveal his true birth year during his lifetime, but public records document his birth on September 24, 1954, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Kelly became interested in fashion at an early age and in 1972 attended Jackson State University for eighteen months, studying art history, art education, and African American history. In 1974, he moved to Atlanta, where he opened a small shop in the back of a beauty salon, participated in local fashion shows, and styled the shop and windows of Atlanta’s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique. Kelly moved to New York in 1978 and briefly enrolled in Parsons School of Design before arriving in Paris a year later.

In addition to his contributions to fashion, Patrick Kelly is remembered for his generous, exuberant personality and as a loyal, down-to-earth friend, but he was also a sharp businessperson and savvy marketer. Kelly’s playful, colorful designs brought fun to fashion; as he often said, “I want my clothes to make you smile.” At the same time, his work pushed boundaries and boldly addressed Blackness, systemic racism, and queer experience.

This exhibition contains the use of anti-Black racist memorabilia that may be disturbing and potentially traumatizing. It aims to explore Patrick Kelly’s intentions in collecting these objects during the 1980s and provide a space for the critical and respectful exchange of ideas as we continue to think and talk about race in the United States.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Patrick Kelly and are gifts of Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones in honor of Monica E. Brown to the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Coat and dress
Fall/Winter 1986–1987
Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Coat: printed and quilted rayon
Dress: wool and spandex knit with plastic buttons
Earrings re-created for this exhibition Modeled by Mounia

Patrick Kelly’s exuberant runway shows opened with the designer spray-painting a heart on the back wall of the stage in the spirit of urban street art. This tactic endeared Kelly to his audiences as well as entertained restless attendees waiting for the show to begin. He was renowned for his warmth, generosity, and loving spirit. Wherever Kelly went, he brought people together; his studios, showrooms, and home were welcoming places for friends old and new, especially for struggling and established Black fashion models.

Dress and earring
Fall/Winter 1986–1987
Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress: wool, angora, and spandex knit with plastic buttons

Earring by David Spada (American, 1961–1996): metal

Private collection (earring)

Dress, hat, shoes, and button earring
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Dress and hat: wool and spandex knit with plastic buttons

Shoes by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): suede with plastic

Button earring: plastic and metal

Modeled by Lu Sierra

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Elizabeth Goodrum in honor of Patrick Kelly, 2021.7.12a–b (button earring)

Dress, brooches, and shawl
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
 

More Love collection

Dress: wool and spandex knit

Brooches: plastic and rhinestones

Shawl: nylon net with paper and flocked viscose

The More Love collection featured designs with embroidered hearts, sequin hearts, and plastic heart brooches. To keep wholesale costs down, the dresses were sold with separately packaged buttons, bows, and hearts that wearers could pin on themselves, thus avoiding the high duty on embellished garments imported into the United States.

Dress and glove
Fall/Winter 1988–1989

Exclusive design for Heart Strings fashion-show benefit, hosted by the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS in Atlanta

Dress: wool and acetate with cotton knit embroidery

Glove: wool knit with plastic buttons

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Costume and Textiles Revolving Fund, 2012-122-1a (glove)

After Patrick Kelly debuted his Fall/Winter 1988–1989 collection in Paris, he presented it in Atlanta for Heart Strings, a touring fundraiser held by the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), based in New York City. This dress was designed specifically for the Atlanta premiere. During the 1980s, AIDS decimated the fashion community; Kelly himself was diagnosed with HIV in July 1987, shortly after signing with Warnaco to produce ready-to-wear collections. The stigma attached to HIV at the time prevented Kelly and others from revealing their illness.

Bodysuit and headpiece with veil
Fall/Winter 1988–1989

More Love collection

Bodysuit: wool knit

Headpiece with veil by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): paperboard with synthetic leather, velvet, and plastic; synthetic tulle veil

Modeled by Janet Chandler

Echoing the runway tradition of ending with a bride, American supermodel Janet Chandler wore a heart-shaped bodysuit, candy-box headpiece, and floor-length red veil, as also seen in the nearby video. Thierry Dreyfus, lighting designer for Patrick Kelly’s fashion shows, recalled, “We had people hide in the ceiling above the runway, and at the end of the show … they threw hearts … I remember Patrick looking up at the hearts like a child watching.”

Jacket, top, trousers, gloves, and decorative snaps
Fall/Winter 1984–1985

Patrick Kelly for Invenzione

Jacket: cotton and acrylic knit with leather, plastic, glass, and metal decorative snaps

Top: wool, angora, and nylon knit

Trousers: cotton knit

Gloves: suede with plastic decorative snaps

Decorative snaps: leather, plastic, rubber, laminate, and metal

Clips from Sveglia la notte bruciando cacao (Wake Up the Night-Burning Cacao) (1984–1985), a film documenting Patrick Kelly’s 1983 collaboration with Italian design group Studio lnvenzione
Progetto S’Cambia of Marco Fattuma Maò,Fall/Winter 1984–1985 Collection, Patrick Kelly for lnvenzione 

Directed by Marco Fattuma Maò for Invenzione.

By permission of Marco Fattuma Maò, fondaazione.com

Jacket, vest, dress, shoes, and decorative snaps
Fall/Winter 1984–1985 Patrick Kelly for Invenzione

Jacket, vest, and dress: cotton and acrylic knit

Shoes: snakeskin with decorative snaps

Decorative snaps: leather, plastic, rubber, laminate, and meta

In 1983 Patrick Kelly collaborated with the Turin-based experimental design group Studio lnvenzione, founded by Somali-born artist Marco Fattuma Maò and Italian architect Loredana Dionigio. Progetto S’Cambia (Project S Change) proposed clothing with magnetic interchangeable gadgets, which Kelly realized as decorative elements that snapped on and off. These two ensembles were presented as a separate fashion collection under the name Invenzione and in an accompanying video, Sveglia la notte bruciando cacao (Wake Up the Night-Burning Cacao), on view above.

The consummate creative, Patrick Kelly was above all a visual thinker and storyteller. Mary Ann Wheaton, former CEO and president of Patrick Kelly Inc., described him as having “the fastest brain on the planet.” His originality and unique vision were conveyed not only through his designs, runway presentations, and advertisements for Patrick Kelly Paris, but also in humorous fashion sketches, provocative and controversial show invitations, and personal portraits styled in collaboration with the world’s greatest photographers. Among the most poignant and private artworks were those in collage, which include tributes to his parents and his muse, American-born Black entertainer and activist Josephine Baker.

Portrait of Patrick Kelly as the Mona Lisa, 1988
Pastel on paper

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Cover from Voulez-vous de la Canne à Sucre? sheet music, 1930

Lithograph

Illustration by Zig (Louis Gaudin) (French, 1900–1936); published by Éditions Francis Salabert (France, est. 1878); written by Léo Lelièvre (French, 1872–1956) and Henri Varna (French, 1887–1969); music by Paddy; performed by Josephine Baker (American, active France, 1906–1975) and Joe Alex (Reunionese, active France, 1891–1948)

Patrick Kelly Spring/Summer 1989 collection presentation invitation
Designed by Christopher Hill
(American, 1959–1990)

Offset lithograph

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Patrick Kelly folder, 1989
Designed by Christopher Hill
(American, 1959–1990)

Offset lithograph

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Selection of Patrick Kelly collection presentation invitations, 1985–1989

Offset lithograph

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Patrick Kelly’s collection invitations were often humorous visual manifestations of his forthcoming collection’s themes. As with his fashion designs and runway-show presentations, the invitation graphics pushed boundaries in his time and continue to do so today. As conceptualized by Kelly, many feature parodies of iconic art historical figures, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; fashion leaders, such as Gabrielle Chanel; and anti-Black, racist tropes.

Pierre et Gilles (Paris, 1977–present)

Portrait of Patrick Kelly, 1989

Chromogenic print with semigloss opaque paint (hand coloring)

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

The French photographers and romantic partners Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, also known as Pierre et Gilles, presented Patrick Kelly as a blackamoor for this work, which was reproduced as the cover of the designer’s invitation for his final fashion show, Fall/Winter 1989–1990. Through this image Kelly confronts racial and sexual stereotypes head-on. The blackamoor is the imagined, racialized depiction of an enslaved dark-skinned African and Muslim Moor, which was depicted in European painting and decorative arts from the seventeenth century to the present day. Pierre et Gilles were known for pushing the boundaries of photography with homoerotic images that were meant to shock, and Kelly’s photograph is no exception. The image has a precedent in fashion history; fashion photographer Horst P. Horst depicted Elsa Schiaparelli dressed as a Venetian blackamoor sculpture at the Bal Oriental in 1935. The blackamoor references in Kelly’s collection that season included jewelry copied from those originally designed by Schiaparelli.

Collage of Josephine Baker, 1985–1989
Collage of cut printed papers (offset lithographs), colored papers, fabric bows, and flower with embossed metallic stickers and applied watercolor

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Sketch: Banana Girl, 1987

Colored pencil in brown, black, pink, and red; felt-tip pen in yellow, brown, and dark red; and pen in black ink and metallic gold over graphite on paper lined on board

Patrick Kelly archive, Sc MG 631
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library

Sketch: Musical Ensembles and Fabric Swatches, 1986

Mixed-media collage on paper: wax crayon in black, yellow, and peach and pen in black, red, and metallic silver ink over graphite on paper, hinged on pink board with fabric samples attached

Patrick Kelly archive, Sc MG 631

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library

Sketch: White and Gold, 1987

Felt-tip pen in brown, gold, and pink and pen in black ink and metallic gold over graphite on paper

Patrick Kelly archive, Sc MG 631
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library

Sketch: Ribbon Dresses and Fabric Sample, 1986

Colored pencil in black and pink; felt-tip pen in dark red, red orange, blue, green, and pink; and pen in black ink over graphite on paper

Patrick Kelly archive, Sc MG 631

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library

With limited pattern-drafting skills and financial resources, Patrick Kelly was forced to think creatively about garment construction. Using a borrowed sewing machine, he made coats with only one seam and cut body-conscious, seamless dresses directly from rolls of tubular cotton knits purchased from a local street market. Kelly’s early ready-to-wear designs embodied “fast fashion,” which, in the 1980s, referred to simple, narrow silhouettes paired with interchangeable pieces that ensured maximum impact for minimal cost. Fast fashion at this time responded immediately to fluctuating trends and allowed designers to be experimental in their use of fabrics.

Throughout this career, Kelly strived to create fun, interesting clothes affordable for “real” people, not just the rich and famous. As he stated in the Summer 1987 issue of Paris Passion’s Accent magazine: “My clothes let you know that whether you’re fat or skinny, have big hips or no hips at all, the shape of your body is just fine the way it is.”

Dress, 1985, and earring, after 1985

Dress: wool knit

Earring: metal with faux pearls

Bracelet re-created for this exhibition

Cut directly from a bolt of jersey knitted in the form of a tube, these garments—with circles cut out for the neck and arms, edges left raw, and seams visible at the shoulders— anticipated the deconstructed fashions of the late 1990s. Patrick Kelly provided his model friends with tube dresses that he sewed himself to wear on casting calls—a savvy marketing tactic. Fashion editor Nicole Crassat noticed his “fast fashion” designs, and Kelly received a six-page spread in French Elle in February 1985.

Top, skirt, and earring
Spring/Summer 1985

Top: cotton knit

Skirt: cotton and acrylic knit

Earring: metal

Coat, dress, hat, and gloves
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Double-knit angora wool

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Ellie Wolfe, 2014-68-1a,c,e,g,h

Patrick Kelly often used a knit jersey fabric similar to that used for sweatshirts. Like the clothing he sold on the streets of Paris, these were comfortable and easy to wear, and they flattered many figures. The ensemble shown was made for Ellie Wolfe, who owned an accessory showroom at the Atlanta Apparel Mart where Kelly worked as a gofer from 1974 to 1978.

Coat
1985

Cotton knit

In 1961, Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga created a oneseam coat that was an exercise in the economy of line and minimal cutting. Patrick Kelly was one of several designers who also took up this challenge. His version was inspired by a cocoon coat by Japanese designer lssey Miyake. Kelly’s coat quickly became a staple of his collections and was offered in different weights of fabric and slight variations on the same style, including one featured on the poster for the sixth Festival de la Mode. The one seen here is the same design Kelly sold on the sidewalks of Paris.

Dress and gloves
Spring/Summer 1986

Cotton and nylon knit

Earring re-created for this exhibition

New York–based Bergdorf Goodman was the first store to special-order the tube dresses featured in Elle magazine, and showcased them in its windows reserved for new designers. To meet the tight deadline for Bergdorf’s spring window presentation, Patrick Kelly sewed the order himself. His success prompted the Paris boutique Victoire to offer the designer workspace above its shop, where it continued to oversee production and shipping of Kelly’s collections through Spring/Summer 1987. Concurrently Kelly produced exclusive designs for Victoire.

Dress, wrap, and earrings
Spring/Summer 1986

Cotton and acrylic knit with synthetic satin drawstrings

Sold by Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s

Convertible swimsuit, earrings, and bracelet
Spring/Summer 1987

Nylon and spandex knit

Earrings and bracelet by

Harmony of Harlem: painted papier-mâché

These innovative tank-top dresses can be converted from street length to mini by hiking the skirts up at the hips. They could also become swimsuits by rolling the skirts up to the waist. During this same period, Patrick Kelly worked anonymously for the French luxury swimsuit line Eres, creating a separates collection that coordinated with the company’s swimwear and cover-ups.

Convertible swimsuit
Spring/Summer 1987

Nylon and spandex knit

Hat and earring re-created for this exhibition

Patrick Kelly crafted his brand around his Black cultural identity and larger-than-life personality. He was reared by strong women in Mississippi, which, in the 1950s and 1960s, was considered the most racist and violent state in the country. Yet Kelly took pride in where he came from, noting for example that, at the Black Baptist church, ladies in their Sunday best “were just as fierce as the ladies in Yves Saint Laurent couture shows.”

Following in the footsteps of other Black American entertainers, artists, and writers, Patrick Kelly’s 1979 move to Paris offered him a safe haven and creative freedom. There Kelly began to collect material that spoke to his own understanding of his Black identity, such as African textiles and political ephemera, as well as racist memorabilia including advertising and knickknacks displaying racial stereotypes and slurs. He appropriated such disturbing images for his designs, reconceptualizing them as distinct, humorous, and entirely his own. Although his choices have been subject to much criticism and debate, Kelly was unapologetic about his engagement with the visual history of anti-Black racism; he believed it necessary to know how Black people were seen through the eyes of others to move forward.

Selections above from the memorabilia collection of Patrick Kelly and Bjorn Guil Amelan, on loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Dress and earring
Fall/Winter 1986–1987
Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress: wool and spandex knit with plastic buttons

Earring by David Spada (American, 1961–1996): metal

Private collection (earring)

Dress and earring
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Dress: wool and spandex knit with plastic buttons

Earring: plastic; repurposed from Patrick Kelly button brooch

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Marvin Levitties, 2004-131-1 (earring)

Inspired by the mismatched buttons his grandmother had used to mend his childhood shirts, Patrick Kelly went on to adopt colorful buttons as his signature. A collage of different-size buttons was used for the bolero effect on this dress. The hand-sewing of so many buttons was extremely labor-intensive. To keep costs down, Kelly’s designs became less dense and more abstract, and ultimately the dresses were sold untrimmed with separately packaged buttons, bows, and brooches that wearers could pin on themselves.

Jacket, dress, and scarf
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Jacket: rayon; printed by Bianchini-Férier (French, est. 1888)

Dress: wool knit

Scarf: silk; printed by Bianchini-Férier (French, est. 1888)

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Audrey Smaltz, 2021.8.2 (jacket)

The design for this fabric, custom-printed by Bianchini-Férier, is based on a famous lithograph of American-born Black performer Josephine Baker by French poster artist Paul Colin, created for his limited-edition portfolio Le Tumulte noir (1927) that featured La Revue Nègre. This Harlemassembled review starred Baker and took Paris by storm when it debuted in 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Baker was Patrick Kelly’s muse, and the designer owned a large collection of Baker memorabilia, including the sequined bodysuit worn for her final performance in 1975 at the Bobino in Paris.

Video
Patrick Kelly Fall/Winter 1986–1987 collection presentation

© 2021 Patrick Kelly Estate / Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Dance costume: skirt, bottom, and bra
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection In collaboration with David Spada (American, 1961–1996)

Skirt: plastic with rubber straps

Bottom: synthetic fabric

Bra: anodized aluminum with rubber straps

Earrings and bracelets re-created for this exhibition

Modeled by Pat Cleveland

Patrick Kelly dedicated his Fall/Winter 1986–1987 collection to Josephine Baker. American supermodel Pat Cleveland wore this ensemble for her spirited interpretation of Baker’s famous dance wearing a skirt of bananas, originally performed at the Folies Bergère in 1925. David Spada’s coiled wire bra—a reference to Alexander Calder’s famous wire sculptures of Baker—was originally conceived with Keith Haring for Jamaican singer, actress, and model Grace Jones’s 1984 performance at Paradise Garage.

Kelly’s friend, designer Mel West, reflected on the parallels between Baker’s time and Paris in the late 1980s, especially in the opportunities available to Black Americans: “We both agreed that we couldn’t get off the ground in the United States. Paris at the time was like being back in 1925—a Josephine Baker revival.”

Dress and earring
Fall/Winter 1988–1989

More Love collection

Dress: wool and spandex knit with metal bows

Earring: metal; repurposed from Patrick Kelly brooch

Dress, boots, bag, and earring
Fall/Winter 1988–1989

More Love collection

Dress: wool and spandex knit

Boots and handbag by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather

Earring: plastic; repurposed from Patrick Kelly button

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Ellie Wolfe, 2014-68-5a (earring)

Patrick Kelly collaborated with French designer Maud Frizon on the over-the-knee boots and handbag seen here. Each season Frizon made 450 pairs of footwear and numerous handbags for Kelly’s runway shows. She remarked, “He knew exactly what he wanted—very sexy for shoes, colorful, and very simple.”

Coat, dress, and headband
Fall/Winter 1988–1989

More Love collection

Coat: synthetic fur

Dress: nylon and Lycra knit

Headband: synthetic fur, satin, and velvet

Teddy-bear mania hit the runway for the Fall/Winter 1988– 1989 collection, with no fewer than five French and Italian designers and fashion houses featuring the stuffed toys on coats. For Patrick Kelly, the teddy bear had personal significance—the given name of his business and life partner, Bjorn, means “bear.”

Convertible coat/dress and bag/scarf
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Acetate and viscose

This faux-alligator coatdress is accessorized with a shoulder bag that can be worn around the neck as a scarf. Growing up in Mississippi, Patrick Kelly would have been familiar with the alligator, which could be found throughout the state and was the mascot for Vicksburg High School, from which Kelly graduated in 1972.

Jacket, skirt, gloves, bracelet, and earring
Fall/Winter 1988–1989 

More Love collection

Jacket, skirt, and gloves: cotton velveteen with metal

Bracelet and earring by Edouard Rambaud Paris (founded 1984, active 1980s–1990s): metal

Modeled by Lu Sierra

Patrick Kelly said of his whimsical ensembles with embroidered and real nails, “If they don’t want to be in love with you, nail them to the wall until they are ready, then release them.”

Collage of Josephine Baker, 1985–1989
Collage of cut printed papers (offset lithographs), colored papers, fabric bows and flower with embossed metallic stickers and applied watercolor

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Dress, bag, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1987–1988 and Spring/Summer 1987

Dress: cotton

Bag: synthetic

Earrings: metal and plastic

This denim baby-doll dress (accessorized here with a red satin lunchbox handbag and miniature cement truck earring as well as a tools earring from the previous season) was a bestseller at Bonwit Teller department stores. Patrick Kelly’s signature use of denim as a fashion fabric led to his anonymously designing jeans and clothing in other fabrics for the Italian fashion brand Benetton for two seasons (1987–1988).

Apron dress, jumpsuit, and earring
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Apron dress: cotton

Jumpsuit: wool and acrylic knit

Earring: meta

Patrick Kelly adopted oversize denim bib overalls as part of his personal style. His choice was a symbolic reference to the rural United States South and Black laborers, tenant farmers, and later, civil-rights activists of the 1960s. He reinterpreted blue and black denim into fashionable, feminine silhouettes, from the denim apron dress paired with a brick-patterned knitted jumpsuit and baby-doll dress seen here, to denim-looking sequined long dresses for evening.

Dress and gloves
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Mock-Couture collection

Wool and nylon knit

Earrings re-created for this exhibition

In July 1987 Patrick Kelly presented his first made-to-order collection for private clients at his new showroom at 6 rue du Parc Royal. He referred to this collection as MockCouture since it was presented unofficially during the haute couture fashion shows. His presentation parodied haute couture shows of the past; each model carried a card with the number of the style she was wearing. The fifty-two-look collection was shown at the exclusive Park Avenue boutique Martha—a dream come true for Kelly— where it was called Wink of the Eye Haute Couture.

Patrick Kelly Atelier

Exuberant Atelier

The design of this section was inspired by Patrick Kelly’s exuberant Marais district atelier, as spotlighted in a multipage article in Architectural Digest magazine, published in September 1989. The workspace and its contents served both as catalysts for Kelly’s collections and as a hub for the designer’s close network of diverse friends, colleagues, and collaborators. The article’s author, Michael Gross, noted that the interior included “numerous portraits of and by Kelly . . . a [satirical] postcard collection of the Mona Lisa . . . Josephine Baker busts, costumes, and portraits . . . hundreds of Aunt Jemima dolls (many made by his mother); dozens more black dolls . . . [and] African sculptures.” Many of the objects that appear in the article also appear in this gallery. As Kelly said of his workspace, “This place is like me. Your pretensions dissolve when you walk through that door.”

Patrick Kelly Atelier

Dress, hat, and earring
Spring/Summer 1988

Dress: linen with cotton embroidery

Hat: woven straw with printed cotton

Earring: meta

By the late 1980s, reproductions and variations of traditional African textile designs and the use of animal prints referencing the continent’s wildlife had become an integral part of the global fashion vocabulary. Patrick Kelly’s creative use of these patterns reinforced his identification with his heritage while linking his designs to an international market. The faux stitching on this linen fabric looks to pieced raffia Kuba cloth from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The hat is constructed from a basket attached to a headband covered in a machine-printed fabric based on handwoven strip Kente cloths of Ghana.

LIFE, ca. 1986

Collage of cut printed (electrophotograph and offset lithographs) and colored papers, playing cards, fabric flowers, plastic doll, and button with embossed metallic stickers and applied watercolor

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Patrick Kelly utilized collage as a visual diary and to explore the legacies of people important to him, such as his muse Josephine Baker or his family. This collage, aptly titled LIFE, celebrates his parents, who appear in a warm embrace. Much like his design practice, his work in collage manifests his singular ability to use seemingly disparate themes, subjects, and materials to form new, unique wholes.

Dress and bracelets
Spring/Summer 1988

Dress: printed cotton

Bracelets: suede, leather

Modeled by Mounia

“I get a lot of criticism from Blacks, and from whites, and from everybody about who I am and my image. And with the Blacks I always say, if we can’t deal with where we’ve been, it’s gon’ be hard to go somewhere.”

—Patrick Kelly, “Faces and Places in Fashion,” Fashion Institute of Technology, 1989

Racist memorabilia refers to artifacts that represent white supremacist views. Many ethnicities are subject to racist caricature; however, offensive artifacts depicting Black peoples are the most pervasive, commercialized, and closely linked to systemic racism. Patrick Kelly and his former business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan, collected and utilized these objects in their showroom. As a queer Black designer, Kelly employed the radical aesthetic of camp to reclaim racist memorabilia for his women’s wear. Like other Black artists post–Civil Rights movement—Nick Cave, Robert Colescott, Betye Saar, Kara Walker, and Fred Wilson—Kelly reappropriated racist memorabilia to confront white supremacy and challenged its anti-Black ideology in the United States and Europe.

—Sequoia Barnes, advising scholar

Plaque for Patrick Kelly Paris, 6 Rue du Parc Royal, 1987–1990. Clear float glass and vinyl. On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Selections above from the memorabilia collection of Patrick Kelly and Bjorn Guil Amelan, on loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Dress, gloves, mask, and shoes
Spring/Summer 1986

Dress and gloves: cotton and nylon knit; printed by Bianchini-Férier (French, est. 1888)

Mask: paper with wood and hemp

Shoes by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather

The golliwog was created by American-born English writer Florence Kate Upton and featured in a much-read series of children’s books, the first of which, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog, was published in 1895. The ugly yet friendly character was described in the book as a “horrid sight, the blackest gnome,” and based on an American blackface minstrel doll Upton played with as a child. Subsequently, the golliwog was popularized as a children’s doll in the United States and the United Kingdom. By the mid-1900s the golliwog had become a symbol of racist and anti-Black stereotyping.

Patrick Kelly’s vast collection of racist memorabilia included various representations of the golliwog, and he created his own version of the image as the logo for his brand, Patrick Kelly Paris. For his Spring/Summer 1986 collection, Kelly featured custom-printed fabrics by Bianchini-Férier, the luxury textile manufacturer, with the logo. It was also used on his brand’s shopping bags. American stores considered the image too controversial, so the bags were not distributed in the United States.

Dress and bracelet
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress: wool, angora, and spandex knit with plastic buttons

Bracelet by David Spada (American, 1961–1996): metal

Private collection (bracelet)

Top, skirt, bodysuit, earrings, and necklace
Spring/Summer 1986

Top and skirt: polyester with synthetic lace

Bodysuit: cotton and acrylic knit

Earrings and necklace: metal with synthetic roses and plastic dolls

This white lace ensemble, a reference to West Indian and Creole fashions, is worn with a necklace and earrings that combine artificial roses and the miniature Black baby dolls that Patrick Kelly handed out as brooches. When questioned about this practice, Kelly remarked in the May 1989 issue of Essence, “You know why some people are hung up with them? It’s because they can’t deal with themselves. Recently somebody Black told me they were harassed about wearing the Black baby-doll pin. And I thought, You can wear a machine gun or camouflage war outfit and people think it’s so chic, but put a little Black-baby pin and people attack you. I do these things so we don’t forget each other.”

Collage of Josephine Baker, 1985–1989

Collage of cut printed (electrostatic and offset lithographs), colored, and brown wrapping papers with felt tip marker

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Jacket, skirt, shoes, earrings, and brooch
Spring/Summer 1988

Jacket made from Vogue Individualist Pattern 2077: cotton

Skirt: printed cotton

Shoes by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather

Earrings and brooch: painted papier-mâché

Reproduction jacket made by Paula M. Sim, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 30-2014-1

Modeled by Mounia

Patrick Kelly’s Spring/Summer 1988 collection was the first produced under the multimillion contract that Warnaco and the designer signed in July 1987. It included many references to Southern Black culture and racial stereotypes, such as the bandana-printed fabric used for this skirt. Kelly’s mother used cotton bandanas for the costumed cloth dolls she made for sale in his then-recently opened Paris boutique. The dolls were based on the branded character of Aunt Jemima, a figure derived from the mammy, a racialized caricature of Black female domestic workers.

About his use of racialized imagery, Kelly was unapologetic, as he explained in American Way’s issue on June 1, 1988: “I know a lot of my friends that ain’t going to put on no bandanna dresses because they figure, ‘I don’t need to look like Aunt Jemima.’ … My grandmother was a maid, a cook, and a cleaning lady, and I loved her. So I don’t care, I don’t have that hangup. I wish she could have been just sittin’ on the porch, rocking and doing mint juleps, but she couldn’t. She had to take care of us.”

Dress, bodysuit, overskirt, and gloves
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Custom design for the Festival de la Mode, Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Nylon

Earrings re-created for this exhibition

Patrick Kelly updated the polka-dot work dress and apron often associated with the racially charged image of Aunt Jemima—a branded character based on the racialized caricature of Black female domestic workers—into an elegant cocktail dress with the apron worn as an overskirt. The ensemble was a special design for the Festival de la Mode held at the Paris department store Galeries Lafayette.

Dress
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Wool knit with plastic buttons

Earrings re-created for this exhibition

Dress and earrings
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress: wool knit with plastic buttons

Earrings by David Spada (American, 1961–1996): anodized aluminum

Dress and earrings
Fall/Winter 1986–1987

Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress: wool knit with plastic buttons

Earring repurposed from pendant by David Spada (American, 1961–1996): anodized aluminum

Modeled by Rebecca Ayoko

Patrick Kelly’s interest in fashion was sparked around the age of six, when his grandmother brought copies of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar home from her white employers, for whom she worked as a maid and cleaning lady. Kelly noticed that no Black women were featured and resolved that he would design for everyone. He recalled, “My granny told me nobody had time for black women. I said, ‘I will.’”

From then on, he avidly followed fashion. As a teenager in 1970, he attended the Ebony Fashion Fair, which presented high-end European designs on Black models to Black middle-class American women. The fair celebrated Black confidence, beauty, and style. When Kelly moved to Atlanta in 1974, he volunteered to design window displays for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. The Rive Gauche line and boutiques were created in 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent became the first haute couture designer to democratize high fashion through ready-to-wear collections.

Many of Kelly’s presentations parodied fashion-show traditions and riffed on the work of Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Laurent, and Madame Grès. The French loved his irreverent approach to the classics.

Dress, jacket, boots, gloves, and earring

Fall/Winter 1988–1989

More Love collection

Dress and jacket: wool with polyester embroidery

Boots by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather suede

with synthetic embroidery

Gloves: wool with plastic buttons

Earring: metal with rhinestones

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Costume and Textile Revolving Fund, 2012-122-1b (gloves)

Patrick Kelly once said that he dreamed of calling his collections “Schiaparelli by Kelly.” Elsa Schiaparelli, a dominant figure in Paris fashion between the world wars, had a major impact on Kelly. Both designers suffused their creations with irreverent, playful, offbeat humor and Surrealist references. Kelly translated Schiaparelli’s iconic suit with lip pockets into dresses with embroidered lips and lip brooches. Schiaparelli’s gloves with red snakeskin fingernails are mirrored in Kelly’s version with button hearts at the fingertips.

Dress, brooches, hat, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Dress: wool, acrylic, and spandex knit

Brooches: plastic and metal

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): wool felt with synthetic satin

Earrings: plastic

Modeled by Sharon “Magic” Jordan-Roach

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Elizabeth Goodrum in honor of Patrick Kelly, 2021.7.11a–f (brooches)

Surrealism was known for juxtaposing elements in a strange, dreamlike way. Red lips, one of its most prominent motifs, were used in the 1930s by designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whom Patrick Kelly greatly admired, as well as artists Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. Schiaparelli designed a suit embroidered with lips for Dalí’s wife, Gala, that she wore with a shoe-shaped hat. Like his buttons, Kelly’s lip brooches were available as separately packaged sets that wearers could apply themselves.

Dress and gloves
Fall/Winter 1987–1988

Wool and spandex knit with metal buttons

Earring re-created for this exhibition

Patrick Kelly humorously referred to the designs in his collection featuring large, flat, gold buttons that looked like coins as his money dresses. The buttons were his version of Chanel’s gold-plated buttons with intertwined Cs.

Gabrielle Chanel
Elsa Schiaparelli

1937; printed 2014

Coated inkjet prints

Patrick Kelly Posed as Gabrielle Chanel
Patrick Kelly Posed as Elsa Schiaparelli
1989

Gelatin silver prints

Horst P. Horst (American, b. Germany, 1906–1999)

On loan from Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones (2); courtesy of Condé Nast

Fashion photographer Horst P. Horst posed Patrick Kelly as Gabrielle Chanel reclining and as Elsa Schiaparelli in an oval gilt frame—tongue-in-cheek re-creations of two of Horst’s celebrated portraits of the two fashion legends, which originally appeared in Vogue in 1937. Horst’s images of Kelly link the designer to the exclusive world of Paris haute couture. Many of Kelly’s own presentations parodied fashion-show traditions, and his designs often reinterpreted the work of great couturiers including Madame Grès, Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Jacket, skirt, gloves, brooches, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
More Love collection

Jacket and skirt: wool and acrylic with plastic and metal buttons and rayon ribbon

Gloves: wool knit with metal and plastic buttons

Brooches and earrings: metal and plastic

Jacket, skirt, top, gloves, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
More Love collection

Jacket and skirt: wool and acrylic with metal and plastic buttons

Top: wool and spandex knit

Gloves: wool knit with metal and plastic buttons

Earrings: metal and plastic buttons

For his version of the classic Chanel suit, Patrick Kelly used a similar tweed fabric, but brightly colored. In place of the couturier’s trademark enamel buttons surrounded by twisted gilt ropes, Kelly’s buttons were oversize and made of plastic.

Dress and gloves
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
More Love collection

Dress: nylon knit with machine embroidery and acetate ribbons, nylon taffeta, and tulle

Gloves: nylon knit with machine embroidery and acetate ribbons

Modeled by Iman

In addition to buttons, bows decorated many of Patrick Kelly’s ensembles. This evening dress pays homage to the house of Nina Ricci, known for its signature small bows and the extravagant layered tulle dresses from Spring/Summer 1988 by its designer Gérard Pipart. The flamenco-style silhouette recalls an evening gown worn by Josephine Baker in the French film Zouzou (1934).

Dress, gloves, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
More Love collection

Dress and gloves: wool and spandex knit with plastic pearls

Earrings: metal and plastic pearls

Modeled by Kimi Kahn (also known as Kiane)

Patrick Kelly’s playful personality often spilled over into his designs on the runway. The Fall/Winter 1988–1989 collection, titled Miss Cou Cou, was a spoof on the fashions of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. This dress covered with pearls is a nod to Chanel’s signature fake pearls.

Dress, wrap, and earring
Fall/Winter 1986–1987
Chez Patrick Kelly collection

Dress and wrap: wool, nylon, and angora knit

Earring: metal

Modeled by Janet Chandler

Patrick Kelly revered Madame Grès as fashion’s greatest couturier. Grès was the master of draping and manipulating fabric into Greek goddess–like silhouettes. Kelly’s lack of pattern-drafting skills led him to develop his own way of draping and pinning fabric into shapes that required little or no cutting. Kelly’s versions of Grès’s silhouettes included body-conscious knitted dresses with wraps that could be worn in various ways, including draped around the hips, tied toward one side, or together to form an overskirt or apron.

Dress
Spring/Summer 1988
Mock-Couture collection

Polyester, acetate, and spandex with printed nylon knit

In January 1988 Patrick Kelly unofficially presented a small collection of made-to-order designs during the season’s traditional haute couture presentations. This collection paid homage to three great couturiers whom Kelly greatly admired: the black jersey minidress draped in black-and-white polka dots was dedicated to Madame Grès; a gray silk-denim suit decorated with red sequin hearts, hands, and lips honored Elsa Schiaparelli; and a bouffant dress in black lace and taffeta celebrated Christian Dior. The following June, Kelly became the first American and first Black designer to be elected to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.

Dress and shoes
Fall/Winter 1988–1989
More Love collection

Dress: wool, acrylic, and Lycra knit

Shoes by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather with suede appliqué

This dress includes its own attached wrap, which can be worn many ways. The “pool ball” shoes feature the number three, Patrick Kelly’s lucky number. Every collection included three versions of each style, and he also sent his models down the runway in threes. “Three is my favorite number,” he stated in the Atlanta Journal on March 3, 1988. “Every time I have something happen that brings me pleasure, it has been in threes.”

Video
Patrick Kelly Spring/Summer 1989 collection presentation

© 2021 Patrick Kelly Estate / Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Patrick Kelly’s exuberant fashion shows set him apart. Each one began with a prayer backstage and ended with a spirited, joyous celebration. His vignettes with music elevated the runway show to performance art. The models’ exaggerated attitudes, moves, and themes can be associated with Black fashion shows, including the Ebony Fashion Fair, as well as the stylized voguing ball culture celebrated by Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities. Kelly also drew inspiration from his experiences designing stage costumes for Le Palace nightclub—Paris’s answer to New York’s legendary Studio 54, known for its extravagant parties, theatrical events, and music overseen by celebrated Cuban DJ Guy Cuevas.

Sharon “Magic” Jordan-Roach, model and Patrick Kelly muse, recalled that Kelly created his shows “so people could understand the story. … Each set of girls would come out and do their thing … to overwhelm everyone in the audience.”

Patrick Kelly’s 1988 election to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode allowed him to show his ready-to-wear collections in the tents in the courtyard of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, alongside the organization’s other members. In October 1988, he presented his Spring/Summer 1989 collection, in which he fantasized that the museum’s most famous “resident,” Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503–1518), had invited him to her “home” to show his latest designs. The runway show and the fashion-show invitation were spirited renditions of his favorite “Lisas.” His collection of altered Mona Lisa postcards that parodied the famous painting inspired illustrator Christopher Hill’s fold-out invitation in the form of a series of playing cards, opening with Kelly as Mona Lisa, followed by five of the thirteen Lisa personas included in the fashion show: Astro Lisa, Las Vegas Lisa, Baker Lisa, Muscle Lisa, and Mississippi Lisa. This invitation may be seen in the adjacent gallery.

T-shirt and earrings
Spring/Summer 1989
Kelly Lisa group

T-shirt designed by Christopher Hill (American, 1959–1990): printed cotton

Earrings: metal with printed paper

Patrick Kelly owned a large collection of altered Mona Lisa postcards that parodied the famous painting. These inspired the Spring/Summer 1989 fashion-show invitation designed by American illustrator Christopher Hill, which took the form of playing cards that folded out, depicting several Lisa personas, including Kelly Lisa, Astro Lisa, Las Vegas Lisa, Baker Lisa, Muscle Lisa, and Mississippi Lisa. Some of the Lisa images were printed onto oversize T-shirts (like the Kelly Lisa seen here) and sweatshirts and worn with colored tights on the runway.

Dress
Spring/Summer 1989
Pinwheel Lisa group

Cotton and spandex knit with silk and plastic buttons

Modeled by Janet Chandler

Dress, hat, and earrings
Spring/Summer 1989
Lisa-Josephine group

Dress: cotton

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): synthetic straw and plastic

Earrings: repurposed from Patrick Kelly buttons

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Kristina Haugland, 2008-36-la-e (buttons)

Patrick Kelly often included references to his favorite objects from childhood in his designs. His Spring/Summer 1989 collection opened with the runway segment Pinwheel Lisa and included this dress—with a rainbow of silk chiffon scarves buttoned on the skirt—suggesting a brightly colored pinwheel. The scarves are also the same colors of the rainbow flag of the gay rights movement.

Dress and headpiece
Spring/Summer 1989
Mona’s Bet group

Dress: cotton, nylon, and spandex knit with plastic dice buttons

Headpiece: synthetic straw with plastic dice buttons

Patrick Kelly took inspiration from the Las Vegas Lisa featured in his fashion-show invitation and created Mona’s Bet ensembles, decorated with both real dice and replicas printed on fabric.

Outfit worn by Patrick Kelly for his final fashion show
1989

Overalls by Liberty (American, est. 1912); T-shirt by Coup de Coeur (French, est. 1983); cap by Pink Soda (English, est. 1983); sneakers by Converse (American, est. 1908); Patrick Kelly logo pin, 1985

Patrick Kelly’s style reflected his exuberant personality and stayed true to the ideals he presented in his ready-to-wear designs. These oversize denim overalls (usually accessorized with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. button), colorful high-top sneakers, and French bicycle cap embroidered with the word “Paris” show his laid-back sense of fun. He maintained this look even for special occasions, dressing it up with an Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket.

The Mona Lisa–La Joconde costume
Spring/Summer 1989
Mona Lisa–La Joconde group

Bodysuit: cotton knit with silk scarves, plastic buttons, and metal stars

Headpiece by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): straw with plastic buttons, metal stars, and synthetic hair

Scarf: printed cotton

Modeled by Grace Jones

In 1988 the Dutch filmmakers Monique Renault and Gerrit van Dijk produced Pas à deux, an animated dance film that featured an androgynous Grace Jones holding a frame over her face and metamorphosing into the Mona Lisa. A year later, Jones appeared as Patrick Kelly’s Mona Lisa wearing this otherworldly ensemble, called the Mona Lisa–La Joconde, in place of the bride that traditionally ends a fashion show. The costume is based on a Lucine Walery postcard of Josephine Baker wearing the finale costume for the 1927 revue Un Vent de Folie. Covered in pompoms, it was worn with a conical hat topped by a feather duster. Kelly explained that his extreme runway looks were meant to attract press attention. The printed textile used for the scarf would have been recognized by fashion followers as a version of Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Moon and Stars from the 1979 Rive Gauche collection.

Dress
Spring/Summer 1989
Le Parfum de La Joconde group

Dress: printed polyester and spandex knit

Overskirt: printed polyester tulle and satin ribbon

The fabric of this cocktail dress attests to Patrick Kelly’s love of roses, which he nurtured in the courtyard of his workroom on rue du Parc Royal, Paris. Another inspiration was likely the rose-printed wedding gown in the finale of Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1987–1988 haute couture collection. The title of Kelly’s runway segment Le parfum de La Joconde translates to “The Perfume of La Joconde” (La Joconde being the French name for the Mona Lisa), a nod to the fragrances that Kelly was considering licensing.

Dress
Spring/Summer
1989 Moona Lisa group

Nylon and spandex knit with plastic sequins

Helmet and earrings re-created for this exhibition

Modeled by Coco Mitchell

Dress
Spring/Summer
1989 Moona Lisa group

Cotton, polyester, and spandex knit with metal, plastic, and synthetic decoration

Patrick Kelly’s comet-like rise to membership in the prestigious Chambre Syndicale was symbolized in dresses embellished with comet-and-star shapes for the Moona Lisa runway segment. They also have echoes in the work of Elsa Schiaparelli’s legendary Zodiac collection from Winter 1938–1939, and Yves Saint Laurent’s moon-and-star print for his 1979 Rive Gauche collection. Coincidentally, 1989 was the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, who directed Kelly’s inspired advertising campaigns, created a publicity shot for Fall/Winter 1989–1990, with the designer dressed as an astronaut.

Dress, necklace, bracelet, and earrings
Spring/Summer 1989
Jungle Lisa Loves Tarzan group

Dress: cotton

Necklace, bracelet, and earrings by Mickaël Kra (French, b. 1960): metal

Patrick Kelly’s Safari group intentionally invoked the French designer Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1986–1987 collection. This ensemble, from the runway segment Kelly called Jungle Lisa Loves Tarzan, features a laced-up bodice dress nearly identical to a leopard-printed satin evening dress by Saint Laurent. This season Kelly also featured jewelry from Black French designer Mickaël Kra’s first collection, Reine Pokou, which married Ashanti jewelry traditions with Paris high fashion.

Jacket, skirt, and hat
Spring/Summer 1989
Miss M. Lisa Graduates group

Jacket and skirt: cotton and rayon

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): synthetic straw and rayon

Earring re-created for this exhibition

Patrick Kelly claimed he never had a commencement ceremony and decided to hold one for himself in his fashion show. The Miss M. Lisa Graduates runway segment marked his acceptance into the Chambre Syndicale. On his election into the Chambre, Kelly remarked in the Chicago Tribune on November 13, 1988, “It was like getting a hundred points on your homework paper. It was like not getting a spanking for doing something wild. Like getting an Oscar if you’re an actor.”

Jacket, skirt, and hat
Spring/Summer 1989
Tango Lisa group

Jacket: cotton and linen with silk
Skirt: printed silk
Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): synthetic straw with plastic and silk

The Bianchina Rose group (a play on the name of the French luxury fabric house Bianchini-Férier, which supplied many of the printed textiles Patrick Kelly used) featured dresses with polka-dot and rose prints. This example is from the Tango Lisa runway segment, which included models wearing hats embellished with lips clenching a single red rose—a reference to the popular stereotype of tango dancers clenching roses in their teeth as they dance.

Dress, headpiece, and basket
Spring/Summer 1989
Billie Lisa group

Dress: polyester and spandex knit with cotton flowers

Headpiece: cotton velveteen with straw and cotton flowers

Basket: straw with polyester lace and cotton flowers

The presentations of the Fall/Winter 1989–1990 ready-to-wear collections in Paris coincided with the centennial celebrations of the building of the Eiffel Tower (erected in 1889) and the bicentennial of the French Revolution (which began in 1789). From the moment Patrick Kelly arrived in Paris, the French were enamored with him. The feeling was mutual. In what proved to be his final show, Kelly celebrated his two loves, France and the United States, featuring dresses and hats with rhinestone Eiffel Towers. There was also a runway segment titled “Casino de Patrick”—another reference to his idol Josephine Baker, who performed her signature song “J’ai Deux Amours” (“I Have Two Loves”) at the Casino de Paris in 1930—that reflected his reverence for the French. Fringed denim suits, striped dresses, and pinto-patterned sweaters recalled American TV westerns Kelly had remembered from childhood.

In early October 1989, Kelly’s Spring/Summer 1990 show was canceled due to his illness. By November 1989, Warnaco had canceled its contract with the designer due to noncompliance. He died on January 1, 1990, from complications related to AIDS. In Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, his tombstone epitaph embodies the designer and his legacy: “Nothing Is Impossible.”

Gilles Decamps (French, b. 1963)

Grace Jones for Patrick Kelly, 1989

Chromogenic print (2014) on Kodak Endura metallic paper

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Janet and Gary Calderwood and Gilles Decamps, 2014-42-1

Dress, scarf, and mask
July 1989
Mock-Couture collection
Platine group

Synthetic and silk

Dress, gloves, and hat
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Casino de Patrick group

Dress: acetate and rayon

Gloves: polyester knit with feathers

Hat: feathers and synthetic ribbon

Dress, scarf, and mask
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Casino de Patrick group

Dress: acetate and rayon with feathers

Earrings re-created for this exhibition

Bodysuit, headdress, and boa
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Casino de Patrick group

Bodysuit: wool and spandex knit

Headdress and boa: feathers

Earring re-created for this exhibition

Modeled by L’Wren Scott

The rousing finale of Patrick Kelly’s Fall/Winter 1989–1990 runway show featured the models as showgirls from the Casino de Patrick—an allusion to the Casino de Paris music hall, where Josephine Baker performed from 1930 to 1932. The last “showgirl” to come down the Casino de Patrick runway was American model Toukie Smith, sister of late designer and Kelly’s friend Willi Smith, wearing a skintight, shimmering silver dress that accentuated her curvaceous figure.

Jacket, dress, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Casino de Patrick group

Jacket: synthetic with feathers

Dress: wool knit with rhinestones

Earrings: metal with rhinestones

Earring re-created for this exhibition

In 1989, American actress Bette Davis, one of Patrick Kelly’s closest friends, wore a red version of this dress on Late Night with David Letterman. Two years earlier, in March 1987, she was a guest on the same talk show; Davis presented Letterman with one of Kelly’s Black baby-doll brooches and announced that the designer was looking for backers. This comment prompted Warnaco to offer Kelly a contract.

Dress, hat, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Man Ray’s Photograph group

Dress: cotton, nylon, and Lycra lace

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): wool felt

Earrings: metal Modeled by Janet Chandler

This black lace dress worn with multiple stacked hats recalls German artist Max Ernst’s famous collage The Hat Makes the Man (1920). Like Ernst, Patrick Kelly was also a creator of collages, in which he memorialized his life, friends, and family, as presented in the preceding galleries.

Dress, turban, and earrings
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Blackamoors group

Dress: wool and acetate

Turban by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): synthetic lamé

Earrings: synthetic stones and rhinestones

In the Blackamoors section of the Fall/Winter 1989–1990 runway show, Patrick Kelly’s models donned turbans and black coatdresses, worn back to front with white satin collars. The group’s name and accessories recalled the handpainted photograph provocatively showing Kelly as a blackamoor, wearing a turban, a leopard loincloth, and ivory bracelets, which was the collection’s signature image. The blackamoor, an imagined, racialized depiction of the enslaved dark-skinned African and Muslim Moor, first appeared on European coats of arms in the ninth century and is found in decorative arts and jewelry through today. The image was collected by and incorporated into designs by Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent, among others.

Bodysuit and sarong
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Man Ray’s Photograph group

Synthetic knit Headdress and bracelets re-created for this exhibition

The runway segment called Man Ray’s Photograph included designs referencing art and Black history. This leopard-print bodysuit, worn with a length of cloth wrapped and knotted around the body, recalls Paris-based American artist Man Ray’s famous 1926 photographs of British writer, heiress, and political activist Nancy Cunard, dressed in a similar print with each forearm covered in African ivory bracelets. Cunard had fallen in love with the Black jazz musician Henry Crowder, who educated her about racism. In 1934, Cunard published Negro, a mammoth study on the achievements and plight of Black peoples throughout the world.

During the fashion show, this ensemble was presented with a Thai dancer’s headdress—Patrick Kelly had recently been in Thailand and brought back gold headdresses as souvenirs. Although today this is viewed as cultural appropriation, many fashion designers at the time were incorporating elements from marginalized peoples without being fully aware of the impact on those with whom the forms originate

Bodysuit and wraparound skirt
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
The Lips of Jessica Rabbit group

 

Bodysuit: polyester and spandex knit with plastic sequins

Skirt: silk chiffon with plastic sequins

Modeled by L’Wren Scott

American model and designer L’Wren Scott wore this ensemble on the runway. Called the Lips of Jessica Rabbit, it was inspired by the character of Jessica Rabbit from the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). In turn, Jessica Rabbit was based on the 1943 animated cartoon short Red Hot Riding Hood, in which Little Red Riding Hood is a performer at a Hollywood nightclub.

Dress, hat, shoes, and earring
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Eiffel Tower group

Dress: wool and spandex knit with rhinestones

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): metal wire, plastic, and nylon velvet with rhinestones

Shoes by Maud Frizon (French, est. 1969): leather and suede

Earring: metal with rhinestones

This design, called “Eiffel Tower,” was originally promised as an exclusive to Marshall Field’s, an upscale department store in Chicago. However, the dress was in such high demand by retailers that it was made available to other stores. Variations included the Eiffel Tower image being outlined in large rhinestones (seen here) as well as silver, metal-domed buttons.

Dress, jacket, hat, and earring
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Eiffel Tower group

Dress and jacket: leather with metal

Hat by Maison Michel (French, est. 1936): leather with plastic and polyester

Earring: metal with rhinestones

Modeled by Janet Chandler

Miniature Eiffel Towers serve as the zipper pulls on this leather suit. Patrick Kelly used the same leather maker as Tunisian-born designer Azzedine Alaïa, who was noted for his body-conscious leather designs. French photographer Gilles Decamps photographed Grace Jones wearing this ensemble for an unrealized brochure launching Kelly’s new eyewear line for Auror, as seen nearby.

Dress and scarf
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Little Red Riding Hood group

Wool and spandex knit

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds contributed by Marvin Levitties, 2007-141-1 (dress)

The Little Red Riding Hood segment including this ensemble was inspired by the story of the same name, one of Patrick Kelly’s favorites from childhood.

Dress, gloves, and earring
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Jailhouse Rock group

Wool and spandex knit, metal

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Elizabeth Goodrum in honor of Patrick Kelly, 2021.7.4a–c

During the Fall/Winter 1989–1990 season, Patrick Kelly presented Jailhouse Rock, a group of black-and-gray, prison-striped knits complete with inmate ID numbers. While contemporary observers bring criticism to bear on the prison-industrial complex, Kelly regarded Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” song, and the movie based on it, as entertainment.

Sweater
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Cowboy group

Printed knit. Hat re-created for this exhibition

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Elizabeth Goodrum in honor of Patrick Kelly, 2021.7.1

This “Pinto Pony” sweater belonged to Patrick Kelly’s assistant, Elizabeth “Miss Liz” Goodrum. A similar one appeared in the Cowboys section of Kelly’s Fall/Winter 1989–1990 runway show.

Suit
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit group

Wool and mohair with metal buttons

Cape, jacket, skirt, hat, and earring
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit group

Cape: wool, Jacket: wool with plastic buttons, Skirt: wool, Hat: wool, Earring: metal

Patrick Kelly referenced the classic film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) with an eponymous collection that rebelled against the power suits of the 1980s working woman’s wardrobe. His suits became bestsellers, ranging from staid gray to lively pink and accented with unusual buttons. Mary Ann Wheaton, former CEO and president of Patrick Kelly Inc., reflected, “No one else at the time was designing suits in Patrick’s style. … his clothes sold out quickly because they were so much less expensive than designs by his peers.”

Dress and earring
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Cowboy group

Dress: wool and spandex; earring: metal with rhinestones

Suit
Fall/Winter 1989–1990
Cowboy group

Rayon and polyester with faux leather. Hats and serape re-created for this exhibition

Patrick Kelly often incorporated personal mementos into his runway shows. In the Cowboy runway segment, he paired several dresses with souvenir feather headdresses that Bjorn Amelan brought back to Paris after a visit to the American West. This section also featured American cowgirls wearing Mexican serapes under their hats, a styling inspired by TV programs Kelly had watched as a child. Although today these are viewed as examples of cultural appropriation, many fashion designers at the time were incorporating elements from marginalized peoples without the awareness of the impact on those with whom the forms originate.

Murals:

Photograph by Oliviero Toscani. Courtesy of the Estate of Patrick Kelly. Scan by Randy Dodson / Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

“Real Love” by Jody Watley and Louil Silas Jr.

“Keys” by Wally Badarou

“Fake” by Alexander O’Neal

“Unforgettable” by Dinah Washington

“The Way You Make Me Feel” by

Michael Jackson

“Respect” by Adeva

“It Would Take a Strong Man” by Rick Astley

“East” by Hiroshima

“Whatever Lola Wants” by Sarah Vaughan

“Make My Body Rock” by Jomanda

“All of Me” by Billie Holiday

“Gravity” by Brenda Russell

“Packing Up, Getting Ready to Go” by

Aretha Franklin, Joe Ligon, Mavis Staples,

and the Franklin Sisters

“Real Love” by El DeBarge

“What Have You Done For Me Lately” by

Janet Jackson

“Kalimba” by Bob Berg

“Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross

“He Turned Me Out” by the Pointer Sisters

“Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone

Listen to the exhibition playlist.