Patrick Kelly

When I was a kid, I was extremely interested in becoming a fashion designer. I consumed every detail I could about clothes and fashion and the way things were put together and presented to women, not only in this country, but in London, Milan, Paris Tokyo, all of the fashion capitals. One of the arguments often presented to me was that black people could not do it, especially ones from the South. Imagine my delight upon my first interaction with the fun and vibrant designs put together by Patrick Kelly, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in around 1954. He had his own obstacles on the way to his groundbreaking career. When he was six, his grandmother brought home a fashion magazine and Kelly noticed that there were not pictures of African American women in it. His grandmother explained that designers did not have time for African American women and Kelly became determined to change this.

After studying at Jackson State University and Parsons School of Design, he went to Paris (thanks to an anonymously mailed plane ticket), where he became the first American designer to gain admittance into the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter (the governing body of the prestigious French ready-to-wear industry) in 1988. Cicely Tyson, Bette Davis, Grace Jones, and Jessye Norman were just a few of his celebrity clients.

Unfortunately,in 1990,  just as he was in the process of negotiating expansion of his business to include sunglasses and furs and a deal for an autobiographical film, he died from bone marrow disease (though some believe and have stated that it was a complication of AIDS). His designs are on display at the Black Fashion Museum in Washington, D.C.

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