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Issue 17 Out Now


Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Patrick Kelly. Photo by Oliviero Toscani

Patrick Kelly was born on September 24th, 1954. Kelly, an African American fashion designer, is responsible for the extravagant and ironic designs we see on the runway today. He made an immense impact on the fashion industry and young black designers by altering fashion. He utilized racial themes and over-the-top designs in his clothing to inspire the fashion community.


Kelly was a gay black man born during the time of the desegregated south. He was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, raised by his mother and grandmother. Kelly noted in his youth that his “grandmother would bring magazines from houses she cleaned”. His early exposure to fashion and the period he lived in, shaped his fashion voice. Kelly also credits his use of colorful buttons to his grandmother and the “mismatched buttons she would use to mend their families clothing”.

Being an originator of the camp aesthetic, is to be extravagant or ironic. Kelly used camp, to highlight the unique black experiences and racial symbolism with fashion. This can be scene in classic movies like B.A.P.S ( Black American Princesses) wrapped in absurd comedy and high fashion.

New Line Cinema

In 1974 Kelly moved to Atlanta after studying art and African American history at Jackson State University for two years. Five years later, he moved to New York to enroll in parsons school of design. Unfortunately he didn’t feel supported, so he moved to Paris that same year. Kelly had his first commercial collection feature in French Elle magazine in 1985, leading to Wanarco investing in his business in 1987.

The traditional route did not work for him. Kelly left parsons after being convinced by his friend, and model, Pat Cleveland, who wore Kelly’s iconic banana skirt. After his move to Paris and first commercial debut, success wasn’t far behind.

Pat Cleveland as Josephine Baker on a 1986 Patrick Kelly runway in Paris.

The work of Patrick Kelly is truly unique, centering his fashion around exaggeration, humor, pop culture, and black folklore. Kelly’s most notable use of pop culture is the fictional black character Golliwog. He showed up in a children’s book at the turn of the century and remained popular until the 1970s when he used it for his collection.

Patrick Kelly was admired by the French and European press. He charmed the entire fashion industry with his designs. Although he had a meteoric rise, his fame was short-lived. Kelly had 10 showings of womenswear under his label and accomplished an amazing feat near the end of his career.

The famed designer became the first American to be admitted to The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (The Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion). Also known as the governing body of the French fashion industry.

His work paved the way for queer black contemporary designers today. His over-the-top design and black individualistic storytelling let designers like Telfar Clemens of Telfar and Kerby Jean Raymond of Pyer Moss produce accessible fashion.


Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver uses ballroom culture and black underground queer scenes in their work and Mowalola’s, Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi who is deeply inspired by music presenting underground black club culture through fashion.

All of these designers express their backgrounds and unique experiences through different textiles and subcultures within black culture.


Patrick Kelly was a phenomenal designer and an even bigger inspiration. His life and work allowed creators today to express themselves boldly and brightly.


Carey, Kate. “​Fashion Nirvana: Patrick Kelly.” McNay Art Museum, McNay Art Museum , 22 June 2020,

Kotecki, Nathan. “Designing Beauty: Patrick Kelly.”,, 16 Jan. 2018,\

Pyer Moss

Museum , Jim Crow. “The Golliwog Caricature.” The Golliwog Caricature — Anti-Black Imagery — Jim Crow Museum — Ferris State University, The Golliwog Caricature — Anti-Black Imagery — Jim Crow Museum — Ferris State University, Nov. 2000,

Museum, FIDM. “Fashion Birthday: Patrick Kelly.” FIDM Museum Blog, FIDM Museum Blog, 24 Sept. 2013,


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