The Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrated its Patrick Kelly “Runway of Love” exhibit with an opening night party on Saturday. MrB, gorgeous designing friend Stacy Lomman and I put on our party clothes and drove to Philly for the celebration.
I’m a big fan of Kelly, who died — too young, of AIDS — on New Year’s Day in 1990. I buy his vintage pieces whenever I can. His story is extraordinary. As I wrote in 2008, Kelly was a gay black man from Mississippi without formal training who got a plane ticket to Paris from model Pat Cleveland and became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter (the governing body of the French ready-to-wear industry). One of his big breaks came in 1987 when nearly-80-year-old actress Bette Davis appeared on David Letterman’s show wearing one of Kelly’s body-con dresses. Talk about advanced style! Why settle for seeing your clothes on a smooth-skinned starlet when you can have a chain-smoking legend?
I first found out about the exhibit last October when gorgeous museum exhibitions assistant Laura Camerlengo — who had interviewed me for her blog Style, She Wrote and knew about my fondness for Kelly — invited me to Philly for a preview of the exhibit. I was impressed with the early work on the show and decided this was something I needed to support.
I’m glad I pitched in because this exhibit is fabulous, and it was extra-special to be there on opening night, when lots of Patrick’s friends were in attendance, many of them wearing Kelly designs.
I managed to get a quick photo with Pat Cleveland, who was holding court near the video projection of her dancing in a Josephine Baker-inspired banana skirt on Kelly’s runway.
Kelly was inspired by and identified with Baker (born 1906, died 1975), the provocative black American singer/dancer/actress who escaped the limitations of American segregation and became an international star when she moved to France in the 1920s.
In 2006, when Beyonce performed in a Baker-inspired banana skirt at Fashion Rocks, I thought of Kelly when the public reaction to the costume revealed a distinct lack of knowledge about the woman who has been described as the “original diva.”
Kelly knew his history — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and incorporated it into his work in provocative ways, as this text at the exhibition explained.
The “golliwog” caricature that he used for his logo also appeared on the clothing designs.
As I told the gals at Shrimpton Couture, I found the information cards at this exhibit to be enlightening. They included not just information on the collections represented by each piece, but also Kelly’s inspiration, history, quotes, and even the names of models who wore particular looks on the runway. For instance, the Spring/Summer 1989 leopard trench jacket/dress on the right of the photo below was worn by the late L’Wren Scott.
Kelly sure loved his animal prints — I found the kissing cousin of my notorious leopard Kelly gown on display. Same fabric, different cut.
My friend Laurel Marcus wore an Eiffel-Tower-decorated Kelly leather jacket over her Kelly dress …
… and we found a relative of that on display too, next to another tribute to Kelly’s adopted city.
Some peeps from Cut + Paste Photobooth were there with an oversized digital camera and a table full of Kelly-related props, so Stacy got to try on an Eiffel Tower hat.
In that photo, you can see part of a signature Kelly button pin that Stacy wore as a brooch in October. (As the text from the exhibit explains above, Kelly’s use of buttons was a tribute to his grandmother’s way of mending his clothes with mismatched buttons.) This time, Stacy turned the pin into a bracelet and wore it with a dress of her own design.
I asked one handsome gentleman, named Spencer, to pose for a photo because he was wearing button pins and denim overalls, just like the overalls Kelly always wore himself.
It turned out he modeled for Patrick. There were a few other Kelly runway models there too. Like Pat Cleveland, they were amused to watch their old runway walks on the video.
I only had one button brooch, so MrB had to go without wearing any real Kelly. Luckily, the photobooth people had another prop for him.
I think he looks very dashing in those heart-shaped Lolita sunglasses. He should wear those all the time.
I got my best outfit pictures before we even got to the museum. MrB, who was driving the rental car, needed to stop to make a conference call. (Weekends never stop MrB and me from working!) He pulled over at a rest stop in New Jersey and suggested that Stacy and I go to McDonald’s. I said, “I’m not really dressed for McDonald’s,” but off we went. Before getting our Diet Coke and fries, we stopped for a photoshoot by the drive-through.
What Wendy Wore
Gown: Patrick Kelly (Fall/Winter 1989 collection; previously seen in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011)
Shoes: Prada (2010, previously seen here)
Clutch: Galeries Lafayette (not seen in this photo, but above. Previously seen in 2011)
I should do more fast-food photoshoots. I felt very comfortable at McDonald’s, though a woman going through the drive-through was a little unnerved about being an accidental photobomber. She told us she hadn’t done her hair that day.
Hair goddess Julie Matos of Warren-Tricomi gave me my messy updo and makeup goddess Tennille Nielsen did my makeup, which included MAC’s Hautecore black lipstick. As always, I wore my own jewelry. I got my Empress Wu dragon earrings out of the vault for this event.
The Patrick Kelly exhibit runs through November 30 at the museum’s Perelman Building, and if you love fashion — especially ’80s fashion — it’s a must-see. If you’re not obsessed with ’80s fashion, it’s still great. MrB enjoyed himself thoroughly.
I bet you’ll walk out saying, “I heart Patrick Kelly.”
I forced my husband, who grew up in NJ, to look at the photos of you in McDonalds. We LOLed! The juxtaposition of high and low is fab.
I think everyone should dress up to go to McDonald’s!
I heart Patrick Kelly. Thanks for the invite and the ride! The exhibit was so well done; I was super impressed. What a fantastic representation of his body of work. Patrick was a very memorable designer for me — I got hooked on fashion in the mid-eighties and decided it was my calling. The designers at that time were so innovative and artistic. Miss those times. Miss Patrick.
Oooh, thanks for the button loan (again)!
Thanks for coming! 🙂
Monika Faulkner says
I just finished reading both this post AND your original from 2008, dear Wendy…as always, I learned so much!! Patrick Kelly was truly a designer ahead of his time, wasn’t he?? Not many people have the strength to forgive a history that was so difficult, but he seemed to accept it all with grace and humour; and transform it into the “wearable art” that is true fashion.
This exhibit of Patrick Kelly’s work looks amazing…thank you so much for the guided tour!! And you (in your awe-inspiring Patrick Kelly leopard gown!) and Mr.B (in his swirly tie and heart-shaped glasses) did him justice, I’m sure!!
Patrick was such an interesting person — so sad that he had such a brief time to create!