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Patrick Kelly Retrospective to Bow at Philadelphia Museum of Art

In five years during the Eighties, the designer made a fashion name for himself, still largely remembered to this day for his whimsical button dresses.

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KELLY RETROSPECTIVE: In five years during the Eighties, Patrick Kelly made a fashion name for himself, still largely remembered to this day for his whimsical button dresses. Now, Kelly, who died of AIDS in 1990, is the subject of a significant retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love,” opening Sunday and running through Nov. 30, will feature archival garments alongside fashion show videos, works by such photographers as Horst P. Horst and Pierre et Gilles, as well as pieces from Kelly’s collection of black memorabilia.

Pieces on show range from his dressed covered with big plastic buttons sewn in a heart shape, as well as items that riffed on Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Madame Grès. (In 1988, Kelly was the first American and African-American to be elected to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.)

“While the many barriers he faced remain, Kelly was always positive,” noted Dilys Blum, the Museum’s Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland senior curator of costume and textiles and organizer of the exhibition. “His branding and self-marketing were unique at the time, but now, in an age of fast fashion and brand-driven sales, it is a perfect time to reexamine Kelly’s contribution to fashion history.”

The show is complemented by an exhibition of Gerlan Jeans streetwear which reinterprets many of Kelly’s signatures. As Blum put it, “What Kelly achieved during the 1980s has continuing resonance today.”