I have few shopping regrets — you know, things you saw, you liked, could actually afford, but for some reason didn’t buy — and that white Patrick Kelly dress was one of them.
In the late 1980s, a group of local women would source last season’s designer clothes (from where, I’ll never know) and then hold an annual sale in a hotel not far from my parents’ house. I went with my mother a handful of times, and once, there was this Patrick Kelly dress. It was white, strapless, with a typically late-’80s gathered skirt. It may have been tiered. It was definitely mini and flirty and fun. My mother wasn’t a fan. I loved everything about it — despite the fact that it was white and my daily wardrobe was almost all-black. I tried it on and felt light, and fun, maybe a little liberated after being outfitted in black for so long.
It was different. Not weird-different, but different for me — radically so — and this scared me enough to put the dress back on the rack and walk away. I think I thought I’d think about it while I checked out the rest of the sale, ignoring the first rule of sample sale shopping: if you find something you even remotely like, hang on to it. I didn’t and when I mustered the courage to commit to the white dress it was, of course, gone.
The designer Patrick Kelly was gone soon, too. He died in 1990 of complications from AIDS at 35. He had only had his eponymously named label for five years and his sense of whimsy and playfulness was his trademark. His clothes were immediately distinctive, fresh and young, often incorporating buttons and nailheads as decorative touches. He was the first black man (or woman) to the prestigious Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, the governing body of Paris fashion week. Not bad for a guy from small-town Mississippi.
Looking back now on Patrick Kelly’s clothes, it makes me wonder what wonderful garments he would have gone on to create. And it certainly makes me wish I had that white dress even more.
All advertisements and editorial images featuring Patrick Kelly clothing originally appeared in the following magazines:
1. Details, August 1988. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani.
2. Mademoiselle, November 1987. Photograph by Kei Ogata.
3. Flare, September 1989.
4. IN Fashion, August 1989. Photograph by Christopher Micaud.
5. Scene, March/April 1988. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani.
6. Harper’s Bazaar, September 1988. Photograph of Robin Givens by Marco Glaviano.
7. Harper’s Bazaar, March 1986. Photograph by Gianpaolo Barbieri.