Happy birthday to Patrick Kelly, born on September 24, 1954! This button-embellished ensemble is a wonderful example of Kelly's exuberant, playful aesthetic. Using a riot of mismatched buttons, Kelly transformed a simple wool sheath into a striking, stare-worthy garment. Arranged in the shape of a heart, the buttons create a trompe l'oeil bustier. Gauntlet-style gloves, also decorated with buttons, complete the ensemble. Kelly's body-conscious dresses embellished with brightly colored ornaments in playful patterns appealed to outgoing women with shapely physiques, causing the New York Times to remark: "Clearly, these were clothes for women who believed that if you have it, flaunt it."1
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Kelly was interested in fashion from an early age. In a 1986 interview, the designer recounted his experience attending the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show featuring black models: "I didn't have money, and I had to fight my way to get there because even at age 12 I knew I wanted to be a designer."2 Kelly persevered, working a series fashion-related odd-jobs in Atlanta and New York (where he studied fashion at Parsons), before moving to Paris. Arriving in Paris with almost no money, Kelly began selling his own designs on the street in front of a fashionable boutique. These early creations were popular, and the charismatic designer was eventually able to launch his own line.
Patrick Kelly often decorated his body-conscious designs with three-dimensional elements, including tiny ribbon bows, dice, plastic black baby-dolls, and buttons. Buttons were a particular favorite and Kelly always credited his grandmother as the inspiration behind his attachment to buttons. As a child, Kelly frequently lost buttons. His grandmother would replace the missing buttons with mismatched buttons. When Kelly complained, she began peppering his clothing with purely decorative, completely unmatched buttons. As a designer, Kelly turned this embarrassing memory into one of his trademarks.
1 Morris, Bernadette. "Tongue-in-Cheek Couture" New York Times July 31, 1987: B10.
2 Hyde, Nina. "From Pauper to the Prints of Paris." The Washington Post 9 Nov. 1986: G1.