The Amazing Life of Patrick Kelly- Vicksburg's Fashion Icon

Bill Seratt

November 21

The Amazing Life of Patrick Kelly

American fashion designer Patrick Kelly was born in Vicksburg on September 24, 1954.  By the time of death in 1990 he had joined the elite status of being one of world’s leading fashion designers.  So well recognized was his talent that he became the first American admitted to Chamre Syndicale, France’s prestigious organization of designers joining such names as Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix.  His creations were worn by the likes of Princess Diana, Bette Davis, Grace Jones, Jane Seymour, Isabella Rossellini and Madonna.

Kelly studied art history and African American history at Jackson State University and continued his art education at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York.  While in high school in Vicksburg, Kelly, a self-taught sewer, helped the girls in his neighborhood design and sew party dresses.  After leaving Jackson State, Kelly moved to Atlanta where he volunteered to decorate the window of an Yves Saint Laurent boutique called Rive Gauche.  Soon he was on the payroll.  He then opened a vintage clothing boutique and worked as an instructor at Barbican Modeling School.  While there he met runway supermodel Pat Cleveland who convinced him that he needed to take his talents to New York.

He enrolled in the Parsons School of Design and worked part-time jobs making just enough to survive on.  He sold his creations to models to supplement his meager earnings.  At this point his friend Pat Cleveland suggested another move, this time to Paris, the fashion capital of the world.  Kelly wanted to move but knew that it was financially impossible for him to do so.  Soon after, a one-way ticket to Paris was anonymously mailed to Kelly.

Life got better for Kelly in Paris.  He was hired as a costume designer for a nightclub called Le Palace.  He continued to sell his own creations on the street and even sold homemade chicken dinners to make a little extra cash.  People began to recognize Kelly’s designs.  In 1984 an exclusive Paris boutique called Victoire hired Kelly and gave him a workshop and a showroom.  One year later Kelly and photographer friend, Bjorn Amelan, joined together to create Patrick Kelly Paris.  Things were beginning to happen for the young designer.  Soon his sales were in the millions.

Kelly’s popularity stemmed from his fun, colorful and exotic style.  As the Washington Post described him in 1988, “Patrick Kelly has a witty way with fashion.”  Kelly’s earliest influence was his grandmother.  Since she had limited resources, she would replace lost buttons on his clothing with whatever she could find and she would often add her own touch to spruce up the clothing a bit.  Large colorful buttons later became a trademark of Kelly’s designs, but his creativity did not stop there.  He decorated dresses with colorful bows, embroidered lips and hearts and even billiard balls.  In 1986 Time magazine described his clothes as “fitted, funny, and a little goofy."

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Patrick Kelly died January 1, 1990, at the age of 36.  He is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.