Friday, September 24, 2010

Patrick Kelly

September 24, 2010
Happy Birthday Patrick Kelly!
How do you define clothes that are part girly-girl, part gypsy, part surreal, and part God-knows-what?

Disclaimer: This is a fashion post. If the idea of fashion offends you, do not read further. Also, it involves the delicate topic of different ethnicities and cultures. If you do not believe in ethnicity or culture please go away. On the positive side, I promise not to use the word "iconic." Not once.

All readers possessing a funny bone may read on:

It really strikes me as strange that whenever it comes to "Black History" we are treated to the same parade of tired political activists and writers who seem to specialize in nothing more than anti-American sentiment as their main claim on our rather short attention spans.

We almost never hear about black Americans who actually were really cool people—who did interesting and wonderful things regardless of their political views.

Two examples—both fashion designers—immediately come to my mind. One was Anne Lowe (who designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress) and the other was Patrick Kelly.

I still miss Patrick Kelly, who died twenty years ago. It's not that he was so unusual or brilliant or spectacularly talented, it was his humor itself that made him a genius. He had a way of making fashion fun for everybody, like a great party.

A really far cry from the uptight Paris fashion giants, he wore denim overalls and a baseball cap to work. He sold plastic pin-on buttons separately from the clothes so that you could mix and match them according to your own whim. Also, you never could be sure that some of the off-the-wall combinations he came up with were the result of careful planning or just pulled from some bag of scraps he had lying around. Who cared?

Part showman, part bagman, part businessman, his version of ethnic humor would never have survived the scrutiny of bias-hyper New Yorkers—which is probably why he ended up taking a one-way trip for Paris. Gain for them, loss for us. You should see the pins he had made as give-aways, and heaven help me—the stylized little black guy on his boutique bags! By golly, the Parisians couldn't get enough of it.

I was a student at Parsons in Paris the year he became all the rage over there. The models would come to our design classes straight from his boutique where they spent their lunch money, wearing zebra-striped tube dresses, turquoise-sequined mermaid skirts and the world's CUTEST suit which consisted of a jacket that had more of a skirt to it than the skirt did. And they always came bounding into to our grungy studio CHEERFUL. That's a word I don't usually see next to the word "model" or "Parisian."

I wasn't exactly the mini-skirt type, but I would have made an exception in that case of that suit with the skirt in the wrong place. It was just too funny to pass up.

But like his other clothes, it was not funny in a nasty or cruel way, it was funny in a just plain old good-natured way. I think that is why scores of young women loved this guy's stuff. Did I mention the black dress decorated with colored billiard balls? or the one with the watermelon slices? I think I even remember one decorated with bananas. Okay, I draw the line at bananas.