WHO: Patrick Kelly
Above: Photo of Patrick Kelly
WHY WE ARE INSPIRED: When you hear the word Mississippi, there are probably a few things that come to mind before ‘ haute couture’. However this great southern delta state managed to produce arguably one of the greatest designers that fashion has seen, whose larger than life outlook and boundary pushing instincts rocked the industry.
Playful, fun and glamorous, it’s easy to understand why Patrick Kelly’s designs became such a hit of the day. But as with anything that garners widespread appeal, they were also sprinkled with the glitter of controversy and sly undertones.
Images courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Kelly’s clever use of iconoclastic racist imagery amplified his political standing on the subject matter at the time. The logo on his boutique bags, which divided opinions, cleverly featured a playful yet powerful image of a smiling golliwog, an effort by Kelly to reclaim the racist stereotype that once depicted black people in America.
Above: Left, Patrick Kelly brooch. Centre, Patrick Kelly shopping bags. Right, Patrick Kelly 1989 magazine feature
With his mother’s helping hand he even produced racist pickaninny doll pins, which he handed out at the end of his shows as souvenirs as well as famously designing a watermelon hat to subtly subvert and undermine racist imagery which were prevalent symbols that he grew up with in the south.
Above: The famous watermelon hat worn by catwalk model
Even when he hit the big time Kelly always remained true to his roots. Though he was inspired by the world of success and beautiful people around him, it was the women in his life at the start that spurred on his passion for fashion.
Above: Left, photo taken with Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace jones Naomi Campbell. Right, Patrick Kelly and his grandmother
Above: Patrick Kelly and Janet Chandler
He never forgot the unrepresented black women who filled the church pews in his home town every Sunday and used them as an impetus to begin his ascent into the world of fashion.
Kelly’s universal imprint became more diverse as he designed for all types of women across America and beyond who had seen glimpses of the glamorous world of fashion. His message was simple, women of all diverse backgrounds should be celebrated, ladies that attend the ‘Baptist church on a Sunday, are just as fierce as the ladies at Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture shows.’
Kelly’s playfulness so admired then and now is underpinned by something more intense today. As much as the designer was appreciated then (illustrated by his induction in Paris’ Chambre Syndicale) with the bittersweet lense of hindsight, the world can see what a rarity he truly was. His fashion house had five years of exuberance, fanning the flames of change before the designer died suddenly. Although Kelly had a signature look with the use heart shapes he sewed onto black tube dresses, using bright coloured buttons he had so much more to offer in the style stakes.
Above: Left, Patrick Kelly AW88. Right Photo of Bette Davis wearing Patrick Kelly
His designs provided a glimpse of what the future would have held for the brand and indeed what is possible for the world of fashion and design as a whole. We at AO London will always remember a true creative who was bold enough to cleverly depict political/social issues through the use of sartorial brilliance.