Back in the eighties I loved the designs of Patrick Kelly, so much so that I bought a ball cap very much like his, turned the lip up and adorned it with wild buttons. That was my tribute to Kelly.
He was a Black clothing designer from the rural south who made a huge splash on the Paris fashion scene during the 1980s and he died of AIDS in 1990 after a short, brilliant career. But his legacy – colorful button accents, zebra prints, clingy knits and safety-pin trims – lives on, which is why the Philadelphia Museum of Art has created a retrospective show in his honor, “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love,” which opens Sunday, April 27.
“His story just resonates with up-and-coming African-American designers and young designers,” said Dilys Blum, the show’s curator.
“What he did would be almost impossible today, to go from selling on the streets of Paris to two years later being backed by [clothing conglomerate] Warnaco.”
“I can’t think of any designer who has had that kind of trajectory,” she said. And his work remains relevant and inspirational to today’s designers.
“Wait until you see what’s in the exhibit,” Blum said. “There’s nothing that isn’t wearable today.”
Glancing through photos of the garments that will be on display through November, I spotted a slinky, black knit dress with a giant heart on the front filled with colorful buttons. I remember being a broke college student and wanting that very same dress so badly I could practically taste it.
I was drawn to it partly because of its whimsy but also because it was a Patrick Kelly creation. To me this says Road Trip. I’m due for a trip to Philly to see family and the Patrick Kelly Collection.