Art of Life — Produced by Karen Smyles
“I want my clothes to make you smile”—that was the goal of late African American designer Patrick Kelly in creating his bold, bright, and joyful creations. Kelly achieved this on the streets, nightclubs, and runways of New York, Paris, and beyond in the heady, inventive, and often-subversive urban milieu of the 1980s. Runway of Love is an expansive retrospective showcasing some eighty ensembles that were recently presented to the Museum as a promised gift by Kelly’s business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan, and Bill T. Jones. Kelly’s designs are complemented by selections from the artist’s significant collection of black memorabilia, videos of his exuberant fashion shows, and photographs by renowned artists including Horst P. Horst, Pierre et Gilles, and Oliviero Toscani.
Art of Life talks to Dilys Blum, Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles about the life of Patrick Kelly and how he became the first African American designer to be voted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale du Pret-a-Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode, the French fashion industry association and standards organization, from his humble beginnings growing up in Mississippi. Travel back to the 80’s and experience how this one designer brought color, style and fun to the world of fashion!
The legacy of the late African American fashion designer Patrick Kelly endures in the whimsical street-wear brand Gerlan Jeans. Launched in 2009 by New York–based designer and graphic artist Gerlan Marcel (born 1976), Gerlan Jeans reinterprets Kelly’s signature bows, buttons, and other bold embellishments to create clothes for men and women “who have a sense of fearlessness in the way they dress.” Similar to Kelly’s fashions, which were inspired by the designer’s Mississippi childhood, Gerlan Jeans reflects Marcel’s Midwest upbringing, in particular her teenage experiences with American mall culture and admiration for 1980s and 1990s jeans brands such as Esprit and Benetton. Friday Arts spoke with the hot, young designer during a visit to the exhibit at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Edited by Megan Dicus