Monday, July 30, 2012

Patrick Kelly ~ A Son of Ellis-Inspired Post

Circa 1930s celluloid black babies in bunting, made in Japan, surrounded by a collection of colorful buttons

Friend-on-Facebook and fellow blogger, Son of Ellis (SOE) has created a tribute doll of the late fashion designer and black-doll collector Patrick Kelly.  Prior to completing and sharing the tribute doll of Kelly, SOE changed his Facebook profile image to an image of Kelly that includes a black doll.  At the time of this writing, another Kelly-inspired image has become SOE's profile image.  (See Yahoo images of the real Patrick Kelly here.)

This Kelly resurgence, prompted me to retrieve a June 15, 1987, People Weekly article to re-read about the young African American fashion designer who, by the time the article was published in the People Weekly's Style section, had taken Paris by storm.  "In Paris, his slinky dresses have made Mississippi-born designer Patrick Kelly the new king of cling," headlines the article, written by Bonnie Johnson, reported by Cathy Nolan with photographs by Vladimir Sichov.  I have scanned the article into a PDF file, see link below. 

Patrick Kelly (c. 1954-1990) began designing and sewing clothing when he was a teenager in Mississippi. Although he had some formal fashion training, many of his skills were self-taught. While in his twenties Kelly moved to Paris, started his own design company, and quickly established himself as a reputable designer. [His] clothes were colorful, fun, and unusual and often had a Southern influence. Large, bright, plastic buttons were his trademark. Kelly was the first American to be allowed into the elite Parisian fashion designer's organization called Chambre Syndicale.
Read more:

My interest in Kelly is not because of his fashion designs and use of colorful mismatched buttons, but because he was also a black-doll enthusiast.  "When I was little I never saw any black dolls," said Patrick, who had been collecting four years at the time the 1987 People article was written and had amassed some 3000 dolls in such a short period.  Kelly's collection included early black dolls, many of which were stereotypical caricatures of black people.  "I don't know if the NAACP would like my dolls," he said in People Weekly, "But they give me pleasure."

According to a May 31, 2004, Washington Post article by staff writer, Robin Givhan, "Whenever he mounted a show, Paris-based designer Patrick Kelly would walk onto the runway dressed in the baggy overalls of a furtive street artist and spray-paint a large heart on the stage set. He would always give everyone in his audience a tiny brown doll with molded black hair that could be most accurately described as a pickaninny.

"Kelly's mascot was the kind of poorly wrought Negro doll that black children of a certain generation refused to play with and whose parents could scarcely blame them. While the fashion industry was ignoring questions of race, he was embracing the doll as a totem."

Like Kelly, I also incorporate dolls that fall into the black memorabilia/Americana category into my collection.  They are reminders of how some manufacturers and artists perceived African Americans during the time of their manufacturer.  They are part of American history -- the way things were -- and the way things never should be again.  Patrick understood this, too.

Read the entire Washington Post article here and more information about Kelly at the following links:
June 15, 1987, People Weekly
Brooklyn Museum: Patrick Kelly: A Retrospective 
Today in African American History


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  1. Thanks so much for this post! I've been seeing SOE's Patrick Kelly doll, but had no clue who he was until this post. Now I will take the time to learn more about him.

    1. You're welcome, Vanessa. I tried to compile as much information about Patrick Kelly as possible without being too wordy. Sometimes I fail at this attempt.


  2. Congratz For Both!
    Debbie For The Great Post On The Blog!
    And Bobby For The Amazing Art Job!!
    Hugs From Jorge!

  3. This is awesome!!!!! I love it!!!

  4. Thanks, Bobby. I thought you'd like this post.


  5. Thank you for this wonderful read. Wayyyyy back in the day I used to watch Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN. I just about lost my knickers when his fashions were featured on the show. I don't know how many years I watched that program and he was the only black designer that I recall being featured. This was before the internet was prevalant so I had no way of "looking him up."

  6. You're welcome Muff. I am glad I was able to compile this information on Kelly and post it in one place. Hopefully it will enlighten others about his talent in fashion design and passion for black dolls.


  7. Thanks for the information. I didn't know anything about Patrick Kelly.

  8. I love this article and I loved Patrick.. fond memories as a child who loved fashion. Great article and OMY I saw his awesome!

  9. Thanks, Doll Party! I am glad you enjoyed this older post. I see that the link to the People Magazine article on Kelly is broken. I will have to create a PDF and see if blogger will allow me to upload in that format. Otherwise, I will remove the reference.



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