I have had enough of an overly commercialized, gift-focused, money-grabbing kind of holiday. I am craving a peaceful, reverent, family-focused Christmas where my physical presence is enough of a present to bring wherever I go for whatever space I inhabit. I will wrap myself up or just deck myself out in bows, if need be, to show just how serious I am about this intention. Yet, true to myself, I have found a fashionable way – using a designer pattern – to make myself look like a walking holiday present for every party, function, or social event we are called to attend this holiday. Who really “needs” excess ‘stuff’ just for the sake of gifting, after all, when we all could use intangible gifts such as a great conversation, a shared meal, a gesture of kindness, or a fun activity that will leave fantastic memories to enjoy on for years to come?! Let me be the present…I can come dressed the part!
Sometimes the best gifts are not only intangible but also the ones you don’t ask for or don’t even see coming. For me, diving into the world of the 1980s designer Patrick Kelly was a good as receiving a gift. My post back in October this year on the designer Patrick Kelly was not for nothing – neither was it a “once and done” experiment. That first Patrick Kelly dress, where I channeled his unmistakable use of buttons, fed my fangirl-type of fascination over his life and work in a way that left me wanting. I only found myself driven to read more about anything and everything related to him, sew more of his designs, and publicaly share more love for Patrick Kelly.
After being quite sick Covid this summer, catching the joy that radiates from exploring his life and his works had given me energy to sew again, renewing my creative spark and excitement for fashion…just what I was needing. Thus, I saw it fitting to change up my earlier plans for the annual “Designin’ December” sewing challenge into something that would be dedicated to Patrick Kelly. Linda at the blog “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” is again running this fantastic contest. I want to use this challenge to help him be appreciated and understood by those who see my interpretations of his creations and read my posts on them. Although my enthusiasm for Patrick Kelly will not be waning anytime soon, he is my designer of 2022.
I am celebrating the gift of Patrick Kelly’s too short but nonetheless amazing life by having him as my chosen designer to imitate for the “Designin’ December” challenge. Not only about discovering people’s favorite designers, the challenge however is meant to encourage sewists to discover their inner talents to make their own version of a name brand garment at an accessible and affordable way. I loved creating and subsequently wearing this dress merely because of Patrick Kelly’s legacy, yet didn’t mind the added benefit that my garment was such a deal. Original Patrick Kelly dresses are sold solely second-hand since the brand officially lasted for a few years and ended when he died on New Year’s Day in 1990. They are rarer than other designer brands and often priced over $1,000! I even splurged on the top-of-the-line velvet to make sure my dress was on par with 1980s Paris runway standards. Even still, my dress turned out cheaper and better quality than any nice dress that is remotely comparable at our local department stores. Thanks to Patrick Kelly, I garner so many compliments wherever I wear this! Anyone with the name of Kelly has to know what works for another Kelly…me!
FABRIC: a premium quality, matte finish, heavyweight, stretch poly velvet from “Blue Moon Fabrics”
PATTERN: Vogue #2078, a year 1988 original from my personal sewing stash
NOTIONS NEEDED: nothing but thread and 29” of ¼“ wide elastic
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress took me in total about 10 hours to trace the pattern, re-size it, then sew the dress altogether. It was finished on December 8, 2022.
THE INSIDES: This velvet does not fray – more on this later – so the inner edges are left raw
TOTAL COST: The 5” clip-on velvet bows were ordered pre-made separately from “Jojo Boutique Bows” and were an additional $15 on top of the $40 spent for the fabric. The notions I needed came from on hand already – thus counted as free. My total cost is about $55.
The exact design of this Vogue #2078 pattern is part of Patrick Kelly’s “Mississippi in Paris” spring/summer 1988 collection (as can be seen in the beginning of this YouTube video of the runway show). The flounced dress was made in a bright turquoise jersey knit to complement the rest of the collection which was in assorted bright, fresh, summer solids. Although dated to 1988, if the design was stripped of its flounces it would make a great base for many of the various open-shouldered dress designs Patrick Kelly offered throughout his career. He himself reused this style for many other dresses. A bright red version of my pattern’s design can be seen with only the shoulder flounce in his Fall/Winter 1989–1990 ad campaign (see left picture). Fully flounce-free versions were gratuitously used in Patrick Kelly’s Spring/Summer 1989 collection where the plainness of the dress design became the backdrop for being covered in buttons, made using a glittery fabric, or embellished with flowers.
At first sight, I gravitated towards the open shouldered wiggle dresses that had their open neckline decorated with bows. Bows can be overly sweet for adult women and be relegated to children but I love how Patrick Kelly uses bows in way that reinvents them to be classy and feminine for grown up girls. His 1986 ad in Seventeen magazine has a Jamaican model wearing a bright red dress with small jewel toned satin clip-on bows while his Fall/Winter 1988-1989 collection has another red version with oversized bright yellow bows (seen 9 seconds into the video).
My favorite version is the one I interpreted for myself – a black velvet open-shoulder sheath dress that has big white bows clustered around the neckline from Fall-Winter 1988-1989 collection. I did keep one bottom hem flounce (which I will address further on in the post) in a departure from the original inspiration dress. However, I felt something click when I discovered a closer image of the dress was featured in the December 1988 edition of Vogue magazine (seen at right). When you can see yourself in the place of a model in a fashion image, wearing the item that she is…that is totally a sign not only is there good advertising but that the garment is meant for you! I do think Patrick Kelly would approve of my customizing his design to make it suit my taste if that means it gives me that smiling face and sense of joy which he wanted all of his clothes to convey.
There were several prominent designers who, after Patrick’s death, seemed to take their own spin on this particular design – see Victor Costa’s Vogue #2588 sewing pattern and Chanel’s ad in British Vogue magazine, both from November 1990. Both competitor’s had their designs structured (couture-style interiors) with boning but Patrick Kelly’s version is the leader in my opinion for two immediate reasons. It was not only first released (1988) but is the easiest to both wear and sew since it is just a closure-free, slip on, stretchy and easy-to-wear dress. The media jokingly dubbed him “the king of cling”, after all! He kept his designs avant-garde but also sensible in the way that they were also versatile, with clip on bows and convertible designs. His ability to marry all of these separate elements into such functional artistry is the genius of his fashions. Engineering – whether it’s for machinery or for a dress – is best when it is kept simple but that doesn’t mean a design has to be any less creatively assembled.
The dress was deceptive mix of both easy and challenging to make. There isn’t much room for error when the dress is so simple. Any mistake in construction or fitting is easy to see when you have a basic design with a stretch fit that has a specific way of laying on the body. This is why it is almost ‘easier’ in the end to make strapless designs when there is an inner corset and boning, as Chanel or Victor Costa did. There is security in over-engineering a strapless or open-shouldered dress, but that does not necessarily equate to joyful freedom of movement. It is tricky to offer an open-shouldered dress with all the ease of pajamas. The fun, swishy comfort of a Patrick Kelly gown – stripped down from the harsh confines of couture tailoring – helps me understand why his models always looked so happy dancing and swirling around on the runways.
I liked to wear my dress slightly over the curve of my shoulder out of preference, yet would have no problem in either fit or appearance of the dress if I did pull the dress down off my shoulders. I got the overall body fit to be snug enough to pull the fabric in on me but not too tight as to cause wrinkles. This way the dress does not feel like it is going anywhere on me when I pull the neckline off my shoulders. The dense quality of the velvet of course helps the situation as does the fact here is a secret elastic casing in the neckline. Either way, the idea is that there is versatility in this dress, and it is no less staying in place for being unconventional in construction. This is possibly the quickest designer sewing project yet!
I did have a slight issue with the fit of the sleeves. There were darts in the top of the sleeve caps on the pattern piece that made me weirdly suspicious from the start. If this is an off the shoulder design why would there the darts in that spot? Their presence positioned there meant that the sleeves would curve over the shoulder edge, and yet I sewed it together as it was just in case Patrick Kelly knew what he was doing, after all. Turns out – I was right…those darts needed to be gone. I unpicked most of the neckline to trim the darts off the sleeve caps and redo the casing for the elastic. Oh well – at least I know I have a decent sewist’s intuition even if I didn’t listen to it!
One way that I needed to trust Patrick Kelly’s original design was when it came to the skirt flounces. Originally I had planned on not having any skirt flounces and just keeping this a mini length. When I traced out the pattern onto medical paper (since it needed to be sized up), I added the panel that originally went in between the two skirt flounces to the dress’ main body at the hemline. Just to be safe, I also added about 3 inches more in hem length. I quickly realized at the first try-on that a mini length look does not do any favors for my thighs or borderline petite height. Secondly, I realized that without the flounces, the dress immediately crept up to my panty line with every move I made. No thanks! No wonder the hemlines were so snug around the thighs of the models wearing Patrick’s mini dresses – it was to keep them from traveling up the body!
A hem flounce was needed here to help this dress both compliment my body as well as hang correctly. I really like the dress all the better for the flounce. I love the fun it adds to the design. It is a powerful dose of dopamine to swish the flounce just the way the Patrick Kelly models do on the runway presentations of his collections. It was nothing more than a circle skirt so it is not groundbreaking. Even still, how the hem flounce looks and the energy it adds to this dress is everything. Patrick Kelly wanted every woman to feel beautiful in his designs, and energy and body positivity I had wearing my version of his 1988 design did not disappoint.
The velvet I used needs its own write up, though. It literally is the most fantastic velvet I have ever worked with. Not to brag but I have tried just about all varieties that are out there – silk velvet, crushed panne, poly velvet, cotton velveteen, and rayon velvet. This Blue Moon premium matte velvet did not shed at all. It is a miracle, especially since I seem allergic to velvet fuzz! There was maybe some slight shedding on my scissor after cutting out a whole dress but that is it. I am in awe. The feel of this velvet may even be better than my silk velvet and it has the most amazing combination of dense stretch with a perfect mid-weight loftiness. I especially noticed that wearing my dress in the winter cold temperatures did not create any static cling, as every other poly velvet does. The inside of a super soft knit while the plush side has a lovely low shine that prevents it from looking cheap even though it is a steal at $16 per yard. Do pick up some for yourself and try it. If you have never worked with velvet before or have had some bad experiences with it, I highly doubt you will be disappointed with this premium matte finish velvet. This is not a sponsored positive review. It is just an honest sharing of an opinion from a happy customer.
Last but not least are the decorative bows that transform this dress from plain to packing a punch. I knew I didn’t want the bows to be permanently in lace but clip-on, just as Patrick Kelly often did for ornamentation. This gives a versatility that is unmatched. For example, through most of the party I wore my dress to, I had one single bow to keep things low-key, but after the party…out from my purse came the rest of the bows so I could sport the full look! I ordered several more extra bows than what was needed to decorate the front from shoulder to shoulder (only 5 bows). Maybe in the future I can dye the rest of the bows different colors in for another variance to my dress! I did notice that the original model has bows that are crisp as if made of a taffeta or wedding satin. Nevertheless, I went with my personal preference to choose velvet bows because I not only wanted an overall unanimous fiber theme but I wanted a softer edge. I gave myself a big break by ordering the bows pre-made. My time – especially around the holidays – is precious and in limited supply so I was thrilled to find these bows which were just what I needed and in great quality at an awesome price. They are about 5 inches wide which seems to be about the proper size to remotely match my inspiration image.
I hope this post puts you in the proper festive mood! After seeing so many bows in my pictures maybe you are just thinking of Christmas morning presents, though. I think the bows make this the perfect little black dress for the holiday. This also is the most I have worn bows since I was probably 8 years old! Just wait until you see the rest of the Patrick Kelly creations I have in line to show up on this blog in the next few months. I have a fabulous mini collection that I am so thrilled about because it will help me continue the cause of spreading love for and awareness of Patrick Kelly, the American designer in Paris.
Remember to be the present with your presence. Take time to appreciate those around you, those you care for, and all those who you meet! This can be a wonderful time of cheer and happiness for many, but it also can be a very challenging time of loneliness and pain or others, so your presence can truly be the best present of all to those of whom no physical gift can help their situation. Have the best of Holidays from my household to yours! I wish you a healthy, safe, contended day with all the blessings which can come your way. It’s hard to believe that in one more week it will be 2023!