Edited by Jessica Lapidos on
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, too. I can tell you what that dream was not: copious tulle and synthetic salmon lamé. I tell you that with confidence. That glimmering dream, however, belonged to 80′s designer Patrick Kelly, another influential African-American, that made his change through fashion. Though Martin Luther King Jr. would not have worn anything by Patrick Kelly, they do share one thing in common: They both left this earth much too early and left a reverberating message.
Kelly was born a poor Mississippi lad who, at an early age, took to art and fashion thanks to his grandmother. Having later attended Parsons School of Design, he eventually moved to France after receiving an anonymous one-way plane ticket to Paris. There he scored a job as a costume designer and would sell fried chicken dinners on the side to make ends meet – It’s called W-E-R-Q, ladies.
Kelly’s designs were soon recognized and in high demand. His colorful and flirty clothes caught the attention of the Chambre Syndicale, an elite fashion group based out of Paris where only the most famous designers gain admission. Kelly earned a spot showing at the Louvre Palace in 1988 thanks to this sought-after and blew the crowd away with his fitted silhouettes, bold color choices and avant-garde fascinators.
Tragically, Kelly passed away in 1990 at the age of 40, leaving behind a most colorful memory. In primarily using African-American models, Kelly paved the way for such famous names as Naomi Campell, Grace Jones, Iman and Tyra Banks.