Kanye Is Right About The Fashion Industry

It’s been nearly 30 years since a black American man was at the end of the Paris runway. Meet Patrick Kelly.

1. During his appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show last night, Kanye discussed his fashion aspirations.

2. And, specifically, the fashion roadblocks he’s facing.


All we want to do is make awesome stuff. All we want is a real shot. I understand about quality, I understand fabrics, I spent 10,000 hours about this, [I’ve] dedicated my life to this.

Michael Jackson had to fight to get his videos on MTV because he was considered [too] urban. So for me, think about this, when I’m in Paris and I’m sitting at fashion week for nine years and South Park makes fun of [my] outfits or people don’t understand why I’m there and I’m getting called names, stuff you can’t even say on TV, and I still can’t break that wall down, at a certain point it’s like Michael Jackson trying to get his videos on. Who do you know who’s known more for clothes than me?

4. Kanye’s not wrong here. He presented two collections in Paris (spring 2012 and later fall 2012) to an unnecessarily derisive fashion crowd.

S/S 2012 Kanye West

style.com

S/S 2012 Kanye West

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5. In particular, critics panned his fall 2012 line — a little unfairly.

A/W 2012 Kanye West

style.com

A/W 2012 Kanye West

style.com

A/W 2012 Kanye West

style.com

 

Were the clothes perfect? No. Were they any/much worse than those of other rising designers often championed by the industry? Also no.

6. Anyway, more of the epic Kanye monologue:


So if I do a Nike Yeezy or Louis Vuitton shoot, the production around it was at the same level as the production on my CD… but if i go out and make my own T-shirt or something and call it ‘Kanye’ everyone’s gonna think about when I just called myself a creative genius and say ‘what’s so genius about this?’ But when people line up for the Yeezy, they say, ‘Oh wow this is really genius.’ You need that production — but currently in fashion there’s no black guy at the end of the runway in Paris.

7. And on this last point, Kanye’s not wrong either.


The spring 2014 Paris Fashion Week show schedule featured 99 shows. Of those 99, not one collection came courtesy of a black designer — male or female. (Though one major fashion house, Balmain, is currently led by a biracial designer, Olivier Rousteing.)

8. Important note: Olivier Rousteing is beautiful.

 

Following his appointment at Balmain in 2011, a spokesperson for the label explained that, having been raised in a French orphanage, Rousteing “doesn’t know the exact origins of his birth parents, but he identifies as a person of mixed race.”

9. So meet Patrick Kelly, the first African American designer to woo the Parisian fashion scene.

Think of him as Kanye’s predecessor — if Kanye wore more overalls, that is.

10. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Kelly’s love of fashion developed as a child.


A scene recounted in biographies/retrospectives of his work is that of his grandmother bringing a fashion magazine home. Six-year-old Kelly asks why there are no black women featured, and his grandmother says the magazines “had no time for them.” So lil’ Patrick is determined to change that. And he does.

11. A perfect Kelly quote on his hometown:


At the black Baptist church on Sunday, the ladies are just as fierce as the ladies at Yves Saint Laurent haute couture shows.

12. All grown up, Kelly moved to Atlanta where he opened a vintage clothing store. He’d upcycle designs, adding frills, buttons and an enticing sense of fun.


He also helped curate the window displays at an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in the city, and worked as a Barbizon modeling coach. Barbizon! And he became friends with the model Pat Cleveland, who pushed him to develop his aesthetic by moving to New York. New York! There, Kelly enrolled at Parsons to study fashion design… and then Pat Cleveland told him to move again, this time to Paris. Paris!

13. Kelly could not afford the move — but a one-way ticket soon popped up, anonymously, in his mailbox. So off he went. And it’s there he made his name.

He began work as a costume designer in a ritzy nightclub, selling his own designs on the side. His clothes proved popular, and he’d soon been offered space to both to create and show off his work in a Parisian boutique. His namesake label, Patrick Kelly Paris, followed.

Kelly pictured here with Iman, Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell.

15. Often described as “fun,” “frivolous,” “goofy” and “exotic,” Kelly’s work featured bold colors and oversize, novelty accessories like bows and buttons.

Vanity Fair / Via westindians.tumblr.com

16. His work often played with stereotypical, racially-charged representations of black and African American culture.

 

Watermelon hats (pictured left) and golliwogs popped up often — Kelly went as far as to use a golliwog as the logo for his brand. He owned a collection of over 3,000 “black dolls” which, he said in a People magazine profile, might have angered the NAACP but “they give me pleasure.”

18. And there were almost always lots of gaudy buttons.

19. MODELS TWIRLED IN HIS SHOWS. Love it.

20. Bette Davis was a big fan of his clothes. Now that’s an endorsement.

Pictured here wearing a Patrick Kelly sweater featuring his signature heart motif and colorful buttons.

21. And so was Grace Jones. Again, a ringing endorsement.

Among other celebrity clients: Princess Diana, Iman and Isabella Rossellini.

22. Also: here’s Madonna wearing a Patrick Kelly gown (and a really bad wig) in a 1989 edition of Vogue.

23. At the start of each show, Kelly would pop up on the runway and spray paint a large heart.

This became another of his trademarks.

24. In 1988, he was awarded membership of the prestigious Parisian Chambre Syndicale.

This is the French fashion industry’s governing body, in charge of the official Paris Fashion Week show schedule. As the first African American designer voted into the group, Kelly’s admission broke boundaries.

25. Patrick Kelly died on New Years Day, 1990, following medical complications brought by his HIV positive status.


(His passing was originally reported as a result of bone marrow cancer.)

26. In 2004, the Brooklyn Museum hosted a fantasic retrospective of his work, featuring over 60 original designs.

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