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Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love

If you have not yet seen Patrick Kelly's Runway of Love exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, drop everything and check it out. Right now. The entire exhibit is simply magnificent. Walking in, you are swept away into a lively five-year celebration of the 80's. Not only the inspirational and unique designs take you away, but the walls are adorned with fabulous photos by the renowned Horst P. Horst, Pierre et Gilles, and Oliviero Toscani, as well as video footage streaming from his over-the-top fashion shows, which appear to be parties on the runway.

Exactly who is Patrick Kelly? I was lucky enough to hear first-hand on the nitty-grittty details from Dilys Blum, The Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles as well Laura Camerlengo, Exhibition Assistant. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Patrick Kelly was a bold designer who first took opened his fashion wings in Paris, and spread them wide for the next 5 years. From an early age, the Mississippi-born Kelly had a remarkable interest in women's fashion, and took numerous steps as he grew to focus his life on fashion. He eventually moved to NYC and attended Parsons briefly, where he was given a one-way ticket to Paris when he was 25 years of age, to develop himself in the fashion capital of the world.

While in Paris, he immersed himself in Parisian culture as well as nightlife, and eventually worked his way into a 6-page spread in Elle which featured his first commercial collection in 1985. This fun and chic collection caught the eyes of those at Bergdorf Goodman, who went on to purchase, and then showcase, his line in a window display typically reserved for new designers. He became the first American, as well as person of color, to be nominated and then inducted into France's Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, which enabled him to present his ready-to-wear collections in the tents at the Musée du Louvre. His vivid and bold designs were worn by woman of every age, and could be seen on a variety of celebrities such as Bette Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Jones, Vanessa Williams and a plethora of others.

His resplendent career and remarkable life came to an end too soon at the age of 35. In those fast and furious 5 years where he publicly made a name for himself in the world of fashion, he created an indelible mark on history. The epitaph on his headstone illustrates Patrick Kelly and his legacy: “Nothing Is Impossible.” His charismatic and daring work expanded the past constraints of racial and cultural boundaries, and has went on to inspire countless modern designers such as Gerlan Marcel and Michael Bastian.

The Runway of Love exhibit is the first to showcase such an extensive collection of his work, all donated by his business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan, and Bill T. Jones. The fully-accessorized 80 ensembles on display portray Kelly's love of color, fun and zest for life. The exhibit is organized into six sections, beginning with Kelly’s 1983–84 collection "Fast Fashion" for the Italian experimental design group Studio Invenzione, and comes to an end with his final Fall/Winter 1989–90 collection “Two Loves” which is a tribute to Kelly’s loves, America and France. Down the center of the exhibition is the featured "runway of love" with five mannequins displaying bold creations featuring his signature heart shape. This is utterly representative of Kelly's loving spirit, for at the opening of every show he spray-painted a heart on the back wall of the runway.

There are too many outrageously fun and inspiring pieces to list, so go and see for yourself. Even if you are not big on museums, this exhibit is certainly worth the trip, and will surely please and entertain your senses. There is something for everyone within the immeasurable works of the legendary Patrick Kelly.

This Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love exhibit opened April 27, 2014 and will run through September 20, 2014 in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, on the first floor, in the Perelman Building. Exhibition hours are Tuesday through Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Visit the website for more details.

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