The press loved the idea of an ‘American in Paris’, coming out of the tradition of people like Joséphine Baker … Patrick marketed his designs in a new way.¹
– Mary Ann Wheaton, former CEO and president, Patrick Kelly Inc.
Patrick Kelly had a shrewd and unconventional vision in every aspect of his creative output and that included advertising campaigns. Mary Ann Wheaton, former CEO and president, Patrick Kelly Inc., said Kelly went against the norm of showing only one model in an advertisement, instead made a reputation of showing his collections on a group of models, along with him, in all advertisements, gaining free press because it was different. “It was Patrick’s idea to put six models in his ad campaigns. He was adverse to showing any one model in the advertisements. He wanted them spread out, looking wild, and having fun … It was ingenious of him.”¹
Another marketing trademark of Kelly’s was at the beginning of a fashion show he would draw a big heart, expressing his love. His shows were “press-bate”; at interesting locations, with themed, theatrical, and choreographed events that people talked about. Models would perform on the runway in groups as if they just arrived at a party, dancing to popular music, moving with freedom – not your typical catwalk. And the shows would end with Aretha Franklin’s gospel. Remember this is Paris. It was quite a scene! Wheaton said, “the press loved the idea of an ‘American in Paris’, coming out of the tradition of people like Joséphine Baker … Patrick marketed his designs in a new way.”¹
The magic, the joy, the beauty, the love – Kelly and his brand were one and the same. Elizabeth “Ms. Liz” Goodman, designer and right-hand to Patrick Kelly reflected on her time with Kelly. She remembers how positive he was on making it big. She said he would say to her:
‘Child, you know we’re going to make it one way or another … child, we’re going to do it’. So, we did it. We did the best that we could, for what we had at that particular time. He evolved from a little young American from Mississippi to a grand master of fashion in Paris.²
EDGE Fashion Intelligence Fashion Culture series presents The Patrick Kelly Story, acknowledging the significant contribution he has made to fashion’s history. Fashion Culture provides educational content of untold stories of the under-represented historical and contemporary contributors to fashion’s history. The Marketing INGENIOUS of Patrick Kelly is the fourth story of a four-part essay. “Fashion Culture | Beauty, IDENTITY, and Representation: The Patrick Kelly Story” is the first that contextualizes the content of the de Young Museum exhibit, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, as a ‘ground zero’ for studying the work of Patrick Kelly. “I LOVE Lycra Dresses and Spare-Ribs”: The Patrick Kelly Story is the second story that delves into the depths of Kelly’s use of racist imagery and why it was (and still is) important as a national conversation. Kelly had a unique ability to reclaim, reappropriate white society’s racist imagery, used to degrade and oppress Black people, into a beautiful body of work that we are talking about today. BUTTONS and BOWS, etc.! A PICTORIAL View, The Patrick Kelly Story is the third story, highlighting a visual journal of his work.
1. Camerlengo, Laura L., ed., Remembering Patrick Kelly, “Patrick Kelly Runway of Love” San Francisco: Yale University Press with The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2021.
2. “Patrick Kelly: The American in Paris”, YouTube video, 22:12, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 24 November 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u59WAjIdqfM&t=1078s
Feature image: Patrick Kelly’s Spring/Summer 1989 advertising campaign. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani. Courtesy of the Estate of Patrick Kelly. Scan by Randy Dodson / Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco