Runway of Love Patrick Kelly Philadelphia Museum of Art ( 162)
Patrick Kelly Runway of Love April 27 – November 30 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art
An anonymous gift of a one-way ticket to Paris brought American designer Patrick Kelly to what some call the City of Love in 1979 to try his luck at high fashion. Kelly spent several years working various jobs—some related to fashion, some not—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 to be elected to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, France’s official association of ready-to-wear designers. Kelly’s meteoric rise in three years from selling his designed on the streets of Paris to admission into this prestigious fraternity of French couturiers was unprecedented.
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, around 1954—he never revealed his true birth year because he never wanted to be defined by his age—Kelly became interested in fashion at an early age and as a teenager designed clothes for his classmates. He attended Jackson State University from 1972 to 1974, studying art history and African American history. In 1974 he left college and moved to Atlanta, where he networked, opened a small shop in the back of a beauty salon, and volunteered to dress the windows of the city’s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique. Kelly moved to New York in 1978 and briefly enrolled in Parsons School of Design, though he spent more time at the dance club Paradixe Garage than studying. After receiving an “anonymous” gift from a friend, American supermodel Pat Cleveland, Kelly dropped out of Parsons and left the United States for Paris.
Patrick Kelly was known for his generous, exuberant personality and as a loyal, down-to-earth friend to many, but he was also a sharp businessman and savvy marketer. Kelly’s playful, colorful designs brought fun to high fashion. As he often said, “I want my clothes to make you smile.”
Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Patrick Kelly and are promised gifts of Bjorn Guil Ameland and Bill T. Jones.
The exhibition is supported in part by the Arlin and Neysa Adams Endowment. Additional funding is provided by Barbara B. and Theodore r. Aronson, Arthur M. Kaplan and R. Duane Perry, Nordstrom, and by members of Les Amis de Patrick Kelly, a group of generous supporters chaired by Bjorn Guil Amelan and Bill T. Jones.