Philadelphia Museum of Art: Patrick Kelly – Runway of Love

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Kelly collected racist "black memorabilia" including dolls, advertisements, knickknacks and household products.
Kelly collected racist “black memorabilia” including dolls, advertisements, knickknacks and household products.

Patrick Kelly was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi around 1954 surviving through what could arguably be described as one of the most racist states in the history of the United States. He attended Jackson State University focusing on art history and African-American history.

The "gollywog" was an English children's storybook character depicted as ugly, but friendly. Kelly reappropriated the image including it in his design. Bags featuring the character were deemed to controverial for American distribution.
The “gollywog” was an English children’s storybook character depicted as ugly, but friendly. Kelly reappropriated the image including it in his designs. Bags featuring the character were deemed too controversial for U.S. distribution.

In 1974, Kelly moved to Atlanta where he volunteered to dress the window of the city’s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Boutique. He then transitioned to New York City in 1978 where he briefly attended Parsons School of Design. After receiving an anonymous gift from his friend, supermodel Pat Cleveland, Kelly packed his bags and left for Paris.

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Kelly highly admired Josephine Baker, who was also embraced in Paris, and she served as his muse, his source of inspiration.

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In 1985, Kelly created the Patrick Kelly Paris company with Bjorn Guil Amelan. He was signed to the United States based apparel company Warnaco in 1987.  Kelly shortly thereafter became the first American and first person of African descent to be elected to the Chambre Syndicale du Pret-a-Porte des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode – France’s official association of ready-to-wear designers. His “meteoric” rise from selling his designs on the streets of Paris to joining this prestigious design fraternity was “unprecedented.”

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Kelly designed for United Colors of Benetton.

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Kelly was inspired by the “blackamoors”, so-called in this exhibit. Referring to the African originated Moors who invaded and resided in parts of Western Europe for hundreds of years bringing architecture, sanitation, and culture to this part of the world, especially Spain.

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“I want my clothes to make people happy”.

Kelly died in 1990, at the age of 35.

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Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love is currently featured at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art located at 2525 Pennsylvania Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The exhibit runs until November 30, 2014. To find more information on this and other current exhibits, visit www.philamuseum.org.

Photography by Ajua Hawkins.

Copyright 2014 Ajua Hawkins

4 Replies to “Philadelphia Museum of Art: Patrick Kelly – Runway of Love”

    1. Yes, it is ashame that he lived such a short life, but at least he did LIVE! Wow. Accomplished more than some do in 100 years. Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

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