Updated: Feb 10, 2020
By Taeler Wright
As black history month comes to an end, I wanted to bring to your attention famous African American designer Patrick Kelly. Kelly is important to the fashion culture because not only was he the first African American to ever be accepted into the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-porter in Paris, he was the first American ever to be accepted.
Patrick Kelly was an American designer from Mississippi, and he made sure to keep his roots a central theme throughout his career. Although he gained some training through experience at jobs he held, the majority of his skills were self-taught. In his mid-twenties Kelly moved to Paris to start his own design company, where he began to create a name for himself.
His clothes were bold, upbeat, and usually had a southern influence. It’s almost impossible to find a design of his that is not flashy and bright with plastic buttons on it. This is what drew consumers to his clothes.
While Kelly was still gaining his footing in Paris, he designed a look for Bette Davis, which she wore on David Letterman and announced that the dress was a Patrick Kelly original, and that the designer was looking for financial backing. A company by the name of Warnaco had noticed him and set a deal overnight. With this company in his back pocket, he had the opportunity to dress Iman, Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Grace Jones, Paloma Picasso, and Cicely Tyson, just to name a few.
In 1988 Kelly was voted in as a member of the Chambre Syndicale, an elite organization of designers based in Paris. Kelly was the first American to join the ranks of such famous designers as Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld, and Lacroix.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Fashion Reverie