Patrick was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Living in the south under Jim Crow wasn’t easy. Although his family lacked resources, they were full of resourcefulness and creativity.
As a child, he routinely lost the buttons on his shirts. Unable to match them exactly, his grandmother, Ethel Rainey, would replace them with mismatched buttons and affix other randomly on his shirts. His mother, Letha, later taught him how to draw and his aunt, Bertha, taught him how to sew—and so began his love of whimsical fashion.
Patrick moved to Atlanta and then New York City to pursue his passion. But few doors opened for him. Instead, his tenacity and friendships with model Pat Cleveland and actress Bette Davis helped set him up for success in Paris. Pulling inspiration from the women in his family, fashion in Black churches, his culture, and the racist iconography of the South—Patrick took Paris by storm. His shows featured Black models dancing and twirling down the runway in body-hugging, colorful dresses adorned with buttons. Patrick made fashion fun.
His charm, charisma, and playful designs led to his notable induction into Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode in 1988. He was the first American designer selected for admission.
Sadly, he lost his battle with HIV/AIDS on January 1, 1990.
But Patrick Kelly is still here. He is an example of immense talent lost too soon to HIV/AIDS and remains an inspiration to designers today. His influence is still felt in designer showrooms and on runways. His designs are reminders of what’s possible when you pursue your passions and your dreams.
It's time to Change the Pattern in the fight to end HIV and AIDS in the Southern United States. Be a part of this new initiative!