Patrick Kelly (September 24, 1954 – January 1, 1990) was an American fashion designer. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Kelly studied art at Jackson State University and than attended Parsons Design NYC. While living in Atlanta Kelly sold recycled clothes and working with out pay at Yves Saint Laurent chairman Pierre Bergé, who later in 1988, sponsored Kelly. Paris-based women’s wear designer and a founder of the fashion house Patrick Kelly Paris. Kelly achieved his greatest commercial success in the late 1980s and in 1988 Kelly became both the first American and the first person of color to be admitted as a member of the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode.
Working from Paris, Kelly produced collections for five years, beginning in 1985 and continuing until his death in 1990. After receiving financial backing from the U.S. based fashion conglomerate Warnaco in July, 1987, Kelly was able to hire a staff and eventually achieve wholesale sales of US $7.2 million per year. Kelly’s designs were sold in upscale retailers including Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s and were worn by celebrities including Isabella Rossellini, Bette Davis, Cicely Tyson and Grace Jones. Kelly’s designs frequently incorporated bright colors, were often embellished with ribbons and buttons and suggested a sense of whimsy and joy while sometimes addressing difficult issues of race. This was pointed out by the giving his audience a tiny brown doll with molded black hair that could be most accurately described as a pickaninny. Kelly also used culture using motifs such as watermelon and the golliwog. He was known to walk the runway in baggy overalls and used a large spray paint heart as the background to his fashion shows.
“I want my clothes to make you smile”—that was the goal of late designer Patrick Kelly in creating his bold, bright, and joyful creations.
Kelly’s early signature creations—skinny, body-conscious dresses with colorful buttons— attracted the attention of ELLE magazine, which featured the designer’s first commercial collection in February 1985. His aesthetic developed out of his African American and Southern roots, his knowledge of fashion and art history, and from the club and gay cultural scenes in New York and Paris. Kelly’s work pushed racial and cultural boundaries with “golliwog” logos, “Aunt Jemima” bandana dresses, and his ubiquitous black baby-doll brooches. His playful looks were inspired by his muse, Josephine Baker, and admiration for couturiers Madame Grès, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent, among others.