Patrick Kelly

B. 1955

D. January 1, 1990 Birthplace: Vicksburg, Mississippi

Whimsy and playfulness characterize Patrick Kelly's designs. He was known for his sexy spandex dresses with bold, theatrical embellishments. By decorating his designs with mismatched buttons, black baby dolls, rhinestones, and exaggerated frills, he created lighthearted designs that captured the spirit of the 1980s.

Kelly created a persona for himself, and many of the facts about his life are difficult to distinguish from the image he created. Many saw him as a fun, spirited character attired in oversize overalls and bright "Paris" caps, but his beginnings were a bit more ordinary. He attended Jackson State University on an art scholarship but dropped out. He owned a vintage clothing shop in Atlanta, and later moved to New York where he attended the Parsons School of Design.

The designer first set foot in Paris in 1981. The one-way ticket to the city, which would become his adopted home, was provided by his model friend, Pat Cleveland. He began his design career by sewing designs in his hotel room and selling them on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. After partnering with Bjorn Amelan in 1985, he became a sensation in Paris. At his first show that year, Bergdorf Goodman was among the purchasers of Kelly's designs. The next year he freelanced as a sportswear designer for Benetton.

1987 was a watershed year for the designer. He opened his first boutique in Paris and introduced his first couture collection. In July of that year he sold the worldwide rights to his women's ready-to-wear to Warnaco. The next year, the Chambre Syndicale honored the designer by admitting him as the first American designer in the organization.

Kelly's bright career was cut short. He showed his last and much lauded collection in 1989. Some of the featured dresses were embroidered by Lesage while others were embellished by an image of the Eiffel Tower created in rhinestones. The designer's failing health owing to AIDS forced him to enter the hospital shortly after his last collection, and he died a few months later.

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