European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Designers

More is More: Patrick Kelly

1980sAmerican fashion

Pure American energy on the global stage of fashion

‘Patrick landed like a bomb in my shop in 1985. He was so gay and so full of energy, and so were his clothes.’

With these words, the buyer at Victoria boutiques in Paris described Patrick Kelly and the fashion he dreamed and made – as if the man and his practice were one the natural extension of the other.

Patrick Kelly was obsessed with fashion. He learned to sew at a very young age, worked in thrift shops when he was young and eventually managed to establish his own label and move to France, to pursue a career that brought him to conquer the Parisian fashion scene of the 19080s. It is in Paris that Kelly became the designer of records. In fact, he was the first American designer to be admitted to the prestigious Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode: something that consecrated him to the statue of ‘createur’. He is probably the most well-known ad remembered African-american designer who actively included his own roots and background into his practice, merging these references with an extraordinarily contemporary aesthetic sensibility.


The references he used to create his clothes were recognisably linked to his sensibility and background: these included elements of Black culture – he was a collector of black memorabilia – as well as to pop art and culture. His style was flamboyant, playful and daringly excessive. This was true also for the way he orchestrated the presentations of his collections, which had to be the very first celebration of his creative thought. ‘I design for fat women, skinny women, all kinds of women. My message is, you’re beautiful just the way you are’  he declared. To prove this, in 1987 he sent on his runway a model who was eight months pregnant.

Kelly died of AIDS in 1990. The words pronounced by his friend and feminist activist Gloria Steinem at his memorial summed up his creative mind as well as his social commitment. She stated: ‘Instead of dividing us with gold and jewels, he unified us with buttons and bows.’