The overall theme to the entire life of the “American in Paris” designer Patrick Kelly was one of boundless vibrancy of life, hopeful positivity, and more love. This welcoming, joyful spirit extended into every portion of his life, but is especially visible through each item he made throughout his all-too-short career. However, being a black man growing up in the 1950s and 60s of the southern states of America, he was by no means immune from being the target of hate, prejudice, marginalization, and dismissive behavior. In return, his loving attitude towards life in all its facets is what made him so especially respected by everyone who he met…because love is the best kind of contagion! Perhaps it was a result of his taking to heart the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He always began every runway show by spray painting a giant red heart on the wall which showed his name. How can you not fall for a designer so centered on the cultivating the basic needs of life – love and happiness?!
Thus, I feel that a dress from Patrick Kelly’s “More Love” collection (of Fall/Winter 1988-1989) is most appropriate to share here for Valentine’s Day. Do you see the “sweetheart” shaping front and center on my dress? After all, he is one of my favorite designers – and not just because we share the same name – besides being my current muse and inspiration. Even with this post having a ‘love’ theme, highlighting this designer will not be exclusive just to Valentine’s Day. I have plenty more of his designs to showcase here on my blog yet to come. May Patrick Kelly’s influence through my sewing his fashion fill your life with a little “More Love” through the entire year!
FABRIC: “Peach Cable Knit Athleisure Fabric” from my local JoAnn Fabrics store. It is 49% Rayon, 29% Polyester, 19% Nylon.
PATTERN: Vogue ‘Individualist’ pattern #2165, year 1988, an original from my personal collection
NOTIONS NEEDED: one long 22” invisible zipper and lots of thread; I added a button to close the neck
TIME TO COMPLETE: This was made in about 15 hours and finished in December 2022.
THE INSIDES: The fabric does not unravel or fray so the inner edges are left raw and unfinished
TOTAL COST: Two yards of the knit fabric cost me $25 and the heart buttons and zipper brought my total up to just over $30.
This is not the first time I have channeled Patrick Kelly, but rather the third. My first look (posted here) was inspired by his trademark “buttons” dress. Go read through that post of mine to learn an overview of his life and the why and what I admire so much about him. Then, for the “Designin’ December” annual sewing challenge, my entry used an authentic Patrick Kelly sewing pattern to channel a year 1988 dress with his second prevailing theme of bows. My post about that dress can be found here, and was a blast to make and wear for Christmas.
This post is about another 1988 design, also sewn using a trademarked Patrick Kelly pattern. The “More Love” collection of winter of 1988 is wonderful because he dedicated it solely to a love theme. All the symbols so frequently associated to love, especially around Valentine’s Day (such as a heart, the color red, kiss prints, and roses), were often subtly worked into almost every collection. However, this post’s dress unabashedly embraces the theme with no distractions. It was convenient that the “More Love” collection came on the heels of two “Salute to the Heart Strings” AIDS awareness charity events in July (at Atlanta, Georgia) and then in October of 1988 (at the Louvre). Patrick Kelly recycled some of the same designs he produced for those two AIDS charity shows to use in his “More Love” collection for the runways of Paris because he saw love as being just that – unconditional and non-judgmental. My pattern’s original dress design can be spotted in a classic black and red combo on the woman at the far left (partial collection seen in picture at right).
I normally gravitate towards softer colors for Valentine’s Day and avoid a bold red unless it is Christmas or I am wearing an Agent Peggy Carter outfit. Therefore, as much as I did want to make a version of that was identical to the model, I also wanted to stay true to myself…and that is the best way to show love to yourself! When I found this soft pinkish cable knit, it just instantly struck me as being “the right one” for my heart bustier Patrick Kelly pattern. Using this modern novelty knit is meant to be a reference to 1985 to 1986 when he freelanced under the Italian brand “Touche” in conjunction with another of my top favorite designers – Enrico Coveri. He also specialized in knitwear couture that had a quirky spirit of fun. (I posted here about his life when I sewed a suit set using some Alta Moda Coveri wool) Kelly and Coveri had a similar exuberant approach to both life and fashion. Both men died in the year 1990 at a young age (their mid-30s) from AIDS. Kelly’s preliminary collection of 1984 was a reworking of designer Kenzo pieces while Coveri had been dubbed the “Italian Kenzo” since his pioneer collection, circa 1979. Both also used similar Italian fabric manufacturing firms to source the knitwear for their collections and both were branded for their clingy, body-hugging fashions, as well. The two of them had a significant amount in common, more than I have room here to recount! Coveri however favored pastels over Kelly’s use of primary colors so maybe the former’s influence won out more than I first realized.
My dual designer reference is so niche that no one but me would ever know, but that is just how I like it. This is the ultimate benefit to the fact that patterns with a famous designer source are made available to the public. True fans behind designer sponsored patterns can geek out and help spread appreciation to that namesake. However, even the casual sewist just looking for something different still renders a designer’s pattern successful. However, designer patterns are the perfect opportunity for the casual sewist to inform oneself. Maybe your next new favorite designer can have its beginning with merely being curious over the name on an envelope cover!
This is a “party in the front, business in the back” kind of design looking at the line drawing only, but really is a dress that only comes to life on a body. I love my swayed, curvy back more than I normally do in this dress. It makes me love my curves! A designer who can give a woman clothing that helps her love the skin she is in has to be a real winner. At the same time as feeling smoking with confidence, I am also warm and cozy…what a wonderful combination for winter that is hard to find in ready-to-wear! The neck band is petite and loose fitting so that it is much less confining than a turtleneck and not that noticeable. The mock bustier makes the covered up neckline become interesting and sultry – not at all boring or unassertive. I have so many ideas for making other versions of this pattern, such as Patrick Kelly’s classic button covered version as well as a summer-worthy bold color blocked version, but my first go at this pattern was a tame yet nonetheless rousing success.
I found some slight quirks to the pattern’s fit along the way to completion. The shoulder line was extended and generous, seemingly intended for substantial shoulder padding to fill in the shape from inside. It was definitely channeling the classic 80s “power dressing” look with such strong shoulders. I pared it down to suit both my taste and my smaller frame. The sleeves also turned out very long in length, not just because of the extended shoulder line. I needed to do a 2 ½ inch hem. Then, somehow the bottom hemline ended up much shorter in the back than in the front. I do not think it was entirely due to the give of the stretchy sweater knit. I think the pattern does not account for a full sized booty! I had to even out the hemline by trimming off the front, which was tricky to do as the knit is very soft and bouncy. My choppy cutting job only made it more challenging to hem the dress for an even fall on my body. Hand stitching the hemming – after many try-ons in between pinning up the length – took almost half the total time I spent making the entire dress. So it goes in sewing…sometimes the process of doing the final finishing details can be so tedious!
Other than these small tweaks to the shaping, the general fit was spot on and the assembly was fantastic. The design was simple but also complex at the same time. Sure, most of the dress looked pretty basic and straightforward and was for most of the time. Then, the front bustier midriff section turns into the most challenging part to the entire dress. I had to take my time to do that section perfectly because it is the highlight of the dress, after all! The curved seams – and one sharp point where the V of the bustier dips – when combined with my chosen stretchy, thick knit fabric made for a tricky situation. However, there are also applied contrast bands which are tucked into the bustier seams. The bands are shaped the same as the bustier, and double faced for a clean finish, but made the seams a total of four layers to sew. I hand stitched the outer (loose) edges of the bustier bands down to the dress because I wanted the thread to be invisible.
I hope you noticed that I used the “wrong” side of the fabric for the middle bustier section and its seam bands. The underside of the fabric is smooth without the cable texture and was a great way to make the most out of the design while going with one solid color tone. It subtly emphasizes the fact that the midriff is a whole separate section. I don’t expect everyone to see the difference at first or even grasp what little thing I did to change that panel up. Yet, I’m not complaining because I also enjoy the way the dress doesn’t scream about the care and attention put into it. I’m seeing it as my own designer’s secret (because yes, everyone who makes their own clothes is their own designer, I believe.) I love the way a great garment can have a complexity which keeps getting better the more you look at it. This is one of the things I love about couture, and wanted to emulate here in some small degree.
No true Patrick Kelly garment, even if homemade, would be complete without his favorite button pins. As Kelly considered 3 to be his lucky number, I went with that many buttons pins. These are not true originals, but merely buttons from my local fabric store that I hot glued pin backs onto. True vintage Patrick Kelly buttons that have his logo on them can go for a spectacular selling price.
The big round red button is closest to his “classic” button pin look, where there are four holes that have black thread sewn in an X across the middle. The other two buttons of a heart and of red lips are a direct reference to the “More Love” collection, which was rife with all the common visual symbols related to love. Lip buttons, lip shoe clips, and even a lip shaped hat all can be found in his collections from the last two years of his career, but the red heart was perhaps his dearest symbol. A red heart (and his brand’s controversial logo) is on his grave in Paris, France along with the words “Nothing is Impossible”. I added a giant red heart button to close up the back neckline of the dress so that there would permanently be a clear, classic Patrick Kelly symbol affixed to this dress.
Patrick Kelly’s incessant expressions of outward love were unique in the way he worked such efforts towards transforming hate into appreciation. The main example of this is the way he projected stereotypical images and items of black American folklore in a way that tries to re-appropriate them into a celebration for heritage and tradition. He made it as plainly obvious as he could that he was a black American designer in a culture that was painfully not yet fully accepting of that fact. For as outgoing as he was, his friends said he was personally a very private person, so his use of outward representations for love (no matter if others did not see things his way) became his means of being vocal about his race, his family, his passions, his creativity, and his hopefulness for a better future. It wasn’t just about crafting a brand for himself – it was about being unapologetically himself so he could spread to others the same welcoming, respectful, joyful connection with his people that he himself felt. He wanted to help create a better reality that he did not yet see existing in the world. To me, all this is what adds so much beauty to each of his designs. The language of love comes in many different forms, and through Patrick Kelly it can be universally understood via fashion. Let’s have a little “More Love” of a different kind this Valentine’s Day!