Sometimes a reminder cames to us to not put things off. With the majority of the world in self survival mode, there won’t be any museum going for a while. That makes my recent trip to Atlanta, taken just as the coronavirus was reaching the US, even more special. It may be the last museum jaunt for a long while.
If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember Patrick Kelly, a young Black designer from Mississippi who took Paris by storm in 1985. His clothes were body-hugging, often in black accented with bright colors. He was known for his joyous approach to life and his loyalty to his friends. Unfortunately, Kelly died of AIDS in 1990.
Since his death, not much has been written about Kelly, though a book is now in the works. He did leave a large archive which is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. Artist Derrick Adams took a deep dive into the archive, which inspired a body of work celebrating Kelly’s legacy.
The exhibition at SCADFASH incorporates these works from Adams, surrounded by clothing designed by Kelly, and memorabilia from his life. Many of these items were loaned to the museum by friends in Atlanta, where Kelly lived during the 1970s.
In my top photo you can see one of Adams’s works. It incorporates pattern pieces from designs Kelly licensed to Vogue Patterns, along with the brights + black scheme that so typifies many of Kelly’s dresses.
This Patrick Kelly dress seems to be to be a collage in dress form.
And here is a work by Adams using the same theme.
This Kelly dress was one that was made into a commercial pattern. The large dots of color are actually buttons.
And here is the pattern. Finding buttons that large must have been a real task for anyone not living in a place like New York with all its fashion resources. The large buttons in the photograph were specially-made buttons for Kelly’s line. He would keep a supply of them in his pocket to hand out to visitors to his boutique and workshop.
This work by Adams incorporates the button theme.
Here’s one of Kelly’s trademark caps. They often just spelled out Paris in sequins. And there’s another of his pattern designs in the background.
One thing I neglected to photograph was a couple of little plastic baby dolls. About two inches long, each was made of molded brown plastic, representing Black babies. I remember these from my 1960s childhood, and was quite surprised that he had them in the 1980s. They were another of the little gifts Kelly passed out to friends and visitors. The Black babies were just one of the ways that Kelly stressed his Blackness, as he also appropriated Black images that were meant to be racist and demeaning. He even used a Golliwog as a motif in some of his collections.
There have been two major retrospectives of Kelly’s work, one at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004, and one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014 after they received eighty garments from his estate. There have been two podcasts about Kelly in recent months, both featuring interviews with Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard, who has been researching Kelly’s story for an upcoming book. Listen to them at Dressed and at the FIT Podcast.
Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey will be on exhibit at SCADFASH in Atlanta until July 19, 2020, Hopefully the museum will reopen with plenty of time for people to see this thought provoking exhibition.
And to show how Patrick Kelly influenced fashion, here’s a dress from Better Dresses Vintage. No, it’s not a Patrick Kelly, but you sure can see the influence.