"Patrick Kelly Was the Jackie Robinson of High Fashion" by Antwaun Sargent (2017)
The American fashion designer's life and legacy are being honored with an exhibition of collages by the artist Derrick Adams.
We lost Patrick Kelly on New Year's Day in the winter of 1990. The legendary African American fashion designer who dressed the likes of Iman, Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, Madonna, and Grace Jones died of AIDS-related causes at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Paris in the care of his lover and business partner, Bjorn Amelan. Having just signed a $5 million production contract with the apparel manufacturer Warnaco, he left us on the precipice of seismic success that no black fashion designer of his era had enjoyed.
This was a gay black man who did not make ordinary Parisian prêt-à-porter—through his signature buttoned and bowed jersey dresses, he was bold and daring. He actively tried to reclaim racist iconography for black people. He evoked the flare and sophistication of bygone eras in his totally trendsetting collections. And he elevated the styles of the black women he grew up around in the deep South to the highest echelons of fashion. As feminist icon Gloria Steinem said when she eulogized him, "He unified us with buttons and bows, tassels and fringe..."