Fashion Culture | Patrick Kelly, First American Admitted to the Chambre Syndicale

Must See Fashion Exhibit:

San Francisco’s de Young Museum presents Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, October 23, 2021 – April 24, 2022. First presented by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014, the exhibition presents 80 fully accessorized ensembles, dating from 1984 to 1990, from the Philadelphia Museum’s archive of Kelly’s work.

Patrick Kelly (1954 –1990) was a celebrated African-American fashion designer who came to fame in France. Among his accomplishments, he was the first American admitted to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, the prestigious governing body of French fashion.  Kelly’s designs were noted for their exuberance, humor and references to pop culture and Black folklore.

Patrick Kelly ad, promotional photo of the designer with models, 1980's |  Arts Museums of San Francisco's "Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love" exhibition catalog cover.
Patrick Kelly ad, promotional photo of the designer with models, 1980’s

The exhibition celebrates the career and legacy of Kelly.  He drew upon his childhood in the United States South, his African American heritage, his experiences in the club and gay cultural scenes in New York and Paris, and muses from fashion, art, and Black history to create light-hearted yet sophisticated designs that pushed racial and cultural boundaries. The exhibition situates Kelly and his work in the broader context of art and fashion history by exploring the inspirations behind his designs, his significant collection of racist memorabilia (whose images he wrested to tell his own story), and footage from his exuberant and groundbreaking fashion shows.

Incidentally, Kelly’s success in France, of where he established his business, did not preclude his work being exposed to an American audience.  Eunice Johnson, fashion editor for Ebony magazine, Ebony Fashion Fair director and producer, validated the work of Black designers who were rarely afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts in America.  Each year she included looks from these designers from the likes of Scott Barrie, Stephen Burrows, Rufus Barkley, Henry Jackson, Willi Smith, and Patrick Kelly.

Feature image:  “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love”, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014 | photo credit: Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor