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Big Love for Patrick Kelly


Patrick Kelly

If Patrick Kelly’s legacy has been a somewhat neglected one, that’s soon to change, with help from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s upcoming Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love. The retrospective of the Mississippi-born designer, whose skyrocketing career was cut short when he died of AIDS at age 35 in 1990, offers a comprehensive look at Kelly’s cheeky brand of femininity. This irreverence earned him a celebrity following, including Grace Jones, Isabella Rossellini, and even an aged Bette Davis, who championed his garments in an effort to find investors for the young designer. After a start working at Atlanta’s Yves Saint Laurent boutique, Kelly cut his teeth as an American in Paris, creating costumes for nightclub vedettes. By 1988 he had found the sponsor he needed in Yves Saint Laurent chairman Pierre Bergé. Kelly would soon become the first African-American designer inducted into the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. A previous retrospective bowed at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004.

Runway of Love boasts photography by the likes of Pierre et Gilles, runway videos from Kelly’s five years of shows, and more than eighty archival ensembles, including his take on Josephine Baker’s infamous banana skirt and a series of Moschino-esque, button-studded body-con frocks. The exhibition’s mannequins come in a variety of skin tones, a nod to Kelly’s embrace of women regardless of race or waistline.

Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love opens this Sunday and runs through November 30.

Dept. of Culture