Runway of Love at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Nicole de Jessa ’15

In 1979, Patrick Kelly, then a struggling designer in New York City, received a one–way ticket to Paris.  He never knew who bought him the ticket, but he took the flight and never looked back.  The impetuousness and boldness of that leap of faith is ever–present in Kelly’s designs, now the subject of the exhibit, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Nestled in a warmly lit, but deceptively large gallery in the Perlman building, his pieces are arranged chronologically by runway show.

(Nicole de Jessa)


Video monitors play loops of the runway shows themselves, starring the boisterous clothing as much as the then teenaged Naomi Campbell or L’Wren Scott.  Dance hits from the era are played continuously, natural accompaniments to runway shows, occasionally giving way to a Nouvelle chanson selection, underpinning all the exuberance with a hint of sadness.


The exhibit, running through December 7th, contains dozens of Kelly’s looks from his career that spanned the 1980’s.  
Not spanned, defined the decadent decade.  His style – the bright colors, the tension between body con pieces and volume, the multi–use wrap pieces of his Fast Fashion collection, the buttons, all the buttons – are the ’80’s.  

 
He broke boundaries, becoming the first American and the first black designer to be voted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, the French fashion industry association and standards organization.  
 
(Nicole de Jessa)

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In 1990, he died of complications due to the AIDS virus. The sense of loss, of his loss, is very slyly and effectively punctuated by the soundtrack, those Nouvelle chanson torch ballads, playing just for minute, between the Duran Duran and the Eurhythmics.