Patrick Kelly was distinguished as the first American and the first black designer to be voted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, the French fashion industry association and standards organization. Pierre Berge, partner of Yves Saint Laurent, sponsored him in 1988. Kelly’s brilliant vision and career were cut short by AIDS, to which he succumbed on January 1, 1990.
The Patrick Kelly aesthetic grew out of his African American Southern roots coupled with his knowledge of fashion and art history, as well as the club and gay cultural scenes in New York and Paris. His muse, Josephine Baker, as well as his admiration for top couturiers Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent also inspired playful looks. Eventually, Kelly’s original, brave, bright, designs became so popular, that he gained the attention of Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale’s, and Bergdorf Goodman. Celebrities including Cicely Tyson, Madonna, Bette Davis, Grace Jones, and Isabella Rosellini were on his famous clients list. Critics tried to accuse him of profiting from his race, but Kelly grew only bolder and unapologetic.