Saturday, October 30, 2021

Patrick Kelly-1980s Fun

While working on the tutorial for the man’s shirt, my girls wanted me to take a small break to tell you about an exhibition they attended at the De Young Museum in San Francisco… “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love” (now through April 24, 20220. This exhibition celebrates the career and legacy of Black fashion designer Patrick Kelly (1954–1990) who was also a dear friend of mine many years ago in Paris. I met Patrick six months after he arrived and I was blessed to watch him rise from struggling artist status to the rising catwalk star he became within five years. Together in our circle of friends, we laughed, we cried, we worked hard to scrape up money for the rent. We sipped champagne, we ate his fried chicken we were invited everywhere and yes we did party hardily….But we all worked as hard as we kicked up our heels. I have very vivid memories of this jovial, generous, incredibly creative person and am still amazed when I think of how he became a legend in the field of fashion design before my very eyes. 



First presented by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014, this exhibition, now on America’s west coast, presents 79 fully accessorized ensembles, dating from 1984 to 1990. Many are from the Philadelphia Museum’s archive of Kelly’s work while others represent new acquisitions from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s costume collection. The exhibition’s sections and themes include the “Runway of Love,” highlighting the designer’s heart-shaped embellishments to his clothing, often composed from his signature buttons. 

”Fast Fashion” includes designs that Patrick Kelly assembled quickly to sell on the streets of Paris after he moved there in 1979. He dressed his model friends in body-conscious knits, which they would wear around the city, becoming living advertisements of his vision. These dresses quickly caught the attention of an editor at French Elle magazine, which featured Kelly’s fashions in a six-page spread in February 1985, as well as the Paris boutique Victoire. His first collection was purchased by New York City's prestigious store, Bergdorf Goodman, who found Kelly’s designs fun, chic, affordable, and Parisian. The section “Beyond Design'' explores Patrick Kelly’s originality and unique vision through the presentation of his humorous fashion sketches, provocative runway show invitations, and personal portraits styled in collaboration with the world’s greatest photographers. Among the most poignant and private artworks are those in collage, which include tributes to his parents and his muse, Black American entertainer and activist Josephine Baker.

“Mississippi in Paris” features Patrick Kelly’s work that boldly addressed the designer’s upbringing, including imagery drawn from his experiences with racism in the United States and his personal collection of racially charged memorabilia. These included bandana as well as golliwog dresses, the latter of which was adapted as his logo. (A golliwog is a fictional and racist Black character that first appeared in a British children’s book in 1885.) Kelly’s adaptation of this symbol would prove extremely controversial in the United States, as the golliwog has always been considered a symbol of racism. Yet for Kelly, there was power in owning these images and putting a positive spin on the to honor Black Americans.

“Hot Couture” is a playful tribute to Patrick Kelly’s muses and the iconic couturier Kelly revered. Many of his own presentations parodied the work of famed couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Madame Grès, the designer whom Kelly held in highest regard. A master at draping and manipulating fabric into Greek goddess–like gowns, Madame Grès inspired Kelly’s much more practical knitted jersey dresses with wraps that tied around the body in various ways. 

In 1988, shortly after receiving financial backing from the fashion powerhouse Warnaco, Patrick Kelly became the first American and the first Black designer elected into the elite Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. Membership in this exclusive group allowed Kelly to present his ready-to-wear collections in the tents at the Musée du Louvre. The section titled “Lisa Loves the Louvre” features designs from this Spring/Summer 1989 collection, for which Kelly fantasized that the museum’s most famous resident, Mona Lisa, invited him to show his latest designs. His collection was a spirited evocation of all his favorite Lisas, from Billie (Holiday) Lisa to the otherworldly Mona Lisa. 

The exhibition’s final section, “Two Loves,” is a tribute to Patrick Kelly’s loves, America and France, which were also embraced by his muse Josephine Baker. The designs in this section come from Kelly’s final Fall/Winter 1989–1990 collection and pay homage to cultural icons from both countries, including the Eiffel Tower and the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. The rousing finale is an allusion to the Casino de Paris music hall, where Baker performed during the 1920s, and which Kelly transforms into the Casino de Patrick. 

Sadly, Patrick's career was cut short by his premature death on January 1, 1990 due to complications related to AIDS. Since his passing, Patrick Kelly’s aesthetic signatures have become part of the lexicon of fashion, and the designer himself has served as a symbol of hope and rallying cry for other designers of color. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s presentation of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love marks the first time that Kelly’s work has been presented by a West Coast museum and allows further opportunity to unpack the social, cultural, and political contexts behind Patrick Kelly’s work.

We first reported on Patrick Kelly back in 2014 at the opening of his retrospective in Philadelphia. That post which you can find by clicking HERE, includes more photos of his work as well as a short tutorial on creating easy knit dresses. At that time, I also uploaded a tutorial on how to make his signature cocoon coat for your doll. 

If you are anywhere near the San Francisco Bay area, I highly recommend this exhibition. 


Background photos and video clip for this post: Courtesy of De Young Museum for Patrick Kelly Runway of Love Exhibition. October 23, 2021-April 24, 2022.

De Young museum: Golden Gate Park \ 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118 \ 415.750.3600 \ Hours: Tuesdays – Sundays, 9:30 am–5:15 pm


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17 comments:

  1. Very interesting story about your friendship and Partick Kelly's life. I need to be honest with you and say I didn't know fashion art of your friend Patrick Kelly, but I'm really glad to know his story by your post. Thank you. Beautiful creations as always. Hugs.

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    1. Thank you Aya for your very kind words. Patrick was famous in the mid-to-late 1980's, so anyone born after that or anyone who wasn't in France or the US, might not have heard of him. This exhibition is the second one mounted in his honor and since his clothes were so young and fun at that time, I thought his fashions would be a good fit for our dolls.

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    1. Thank you Dlubaniny, for your kind words. Happy you enjoyed this post.

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  3. Patrick Kelly to bardzo pogodny, uśmiechnięty i bezpośredni człowiek, który posiada niezwykły talent w dziedzinie mody! Z wielką przyjemnością obejrzałam film i przeczytałam o nim w Twoim poście :-)
    Wspaniałe stworzyłaś kreacje swoim lalkom! Rewelacyjne ubrania!
    Pozdrawiam Cię serdecznie ♥

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    1. Olla wrote: Patrick Kelly is a very cheerful, smiling and direct person who has an amazing talent in the field of fashion! I watched the movie with great pleasure and read about it in your post :-)
      You have created wonderful creations for your dolls! Amazing clothes!
      Yours sincerely ♥

      Olla, Patrick was such a jovial person and the 1980's in the Paris fashion world, was such an amazing time. These clothes are such a great fit for our Barbies because they are simple, sexy, colorful and fun...just like the designer himself. I'm happy I was able to share this with you. Big hugs. April

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  4. Hello April, thank you for letting us discover Patrick. I admit that I did not know him but these models vaguely tell me something. At that time I was very young and I was interested in Barbie and not in sewing. Thank you for making us discover these great couture who have already left us. It's good to remember these people. I really like the dresses you made for your dollies.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Shasarignis. It is true that outside of Paris and the US, Patrick was lesser known. But still...he was responsible for the whole movement of "stretch" dresses and garments. Making clothes for the dolls was easy, simple and fun!

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  5. As usual, I enjoyed seeing your reimagined fashions and reading about the inspiration. While researching his work several years ago for a blog post tribute, I was delighted to learn that the super talented and creative Patrick Kelly collected Black dolls (beyond the racist relics your post mentions).


    dbg

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    1. Yes Debbie--Patrick was an avid black doll collector. A lot of his friends knew this and gave him dolls as gifts as well. You know that he produced and sold packets of giant buttons. There were also black baby doll pins (I still have a few). As far as the golliwogs....he didn't see them as racist... He embraced them and saw them as a tribute and went as far as to make that image his logo. Of course others (including Ciseley Tyson) did not agree.

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  6. Wow! As a kid I watched him on Style with Elisa Clench... I day dreamed about owning one of his black dressses with all the bright buttons. I love this ..beautiful fashions for dolls.

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    1. OMG....He dressed me!!! I still have a number of those dresses including a black dress with gold buttons sewn on in the shape of the heart!!!

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  7. Wow! As a kid I watched him on Style with Elisa Clench... I day dreamed about owning one of his black dressses with all the bright buttons. I love this ..beautiful fashions for dolls.

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    1. Welcome to my blog Doll Party! Patrick Kelly dresses are perfect for dolls. They are super easy to make and so much fun. And even if you leave the edges un-hemmed....that's ok. The early dresses Patrick made himself were all rough cut.. He believed the look was more important than the details! I have one of the rough cut dresses he made for me to present to Essence magazine before he became famous!

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  8. Thank you April for introducing this wonderful designer. I didn't know him yet. It must have been so great to witness your friend's starting career and success later on. It's such a pity that he died so young, he leaves a beautiful legacy of fashion. As always, your girls look FABULOUS! Hugs!

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  9. Thank you so much Linda. So sorry to respond to your comment so late but I had been feeling still a bit burned out and I finally had the opportunity to get back to Paris for a nice break. Saw a lot of fashion. Drank a lot of wine. Ate lots of buttery food. Recharged my batteries and now I can get back to the blog!

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  10. This was a really fun post, I meant to come back and comment, and then forgot. Such a fabulous tribute to a real icon in the fashion world. Hugs, and hope you had a lovely Holiday Season, Sandi

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