The Museum at FIT’s current exhibition, Black Fashion Designers, showcases the often-overlooked work of more than 60 designers of African descent. (The show runs to May 16th, 2017). Monday’s symposium is sold out, but you can watch a livestream here.
Many of the designers featured in the FIT exhibit also licensed sewing patterns. Here are some highlights of patterns by designers of African descent, from the 1970s to now.
Sportswear designer Willi Smith (1948-1987) signed with Butterick’s Young Designer line in the 1970s; in the ’80s, he moved to McCall’s with his label Williwear. According to the exhibition notes, Smith branched into menswear in 1982, but this pattern is almost a decade earlier:
Stephen Burrows (b. 1943) licensed designs with McCall’s Carefree line in the mid-1970s. This pattern combines two of his signature elements, colour blocking and lettuce hems:
Scott Barrie (1946-1993) began his career at Vogue Patterns, so his introduction to home sewers was also a welcome back. Chris von Wangenheim photographed Barrie with two models for a feature highlighting his work with matte jersey. The patterns are Vogue 1976 (on Gia Carangi) and Vogue 1994:
Best known for his formal wear, British designer Bruce Oldfield (b. 1950) licensed his work with Style Patterns in the mid-1980s. (See my earlier post here). This dolman-sleeved dress could be made in cocktail or evening length:
Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) first appeared on the pattern scene in the late 1980s with this dramatic peplum suit. (Read my Patrick Kelly post here, or download the free one-seam coat pattern.)
Gordon Henderson (b. 1957) was among the first designers in the ’90s Vogue Attitudes line. (According to a 1990 profile, his mother—a psychologist and single parent—used Vogue patterns to economize.) This 1990 design shows his interest in colour and silhouette:
Also in the Vogue Attitudes line, patterns by Byron Lars (b. 1965) remain popular today. (See my earlier post.) This shirt dress and leggings ensemble was photographed on the street in New York City:
Tracy Reese (b. 1964) has licensed her main label with Vogue Patterns since 2009; McCall’s added bridge line Plenty by Tracy Reese in 2012. Vogue’s most recent offering, Vogue 1512, is a dress from Reese’s Fall 2015 collection.
For more on the Black Fashion Designers exhibit, see the museum notes and Alexandra Jacobs’ article in The New York Times.
As part of its current exhibition, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is sharing a pattern for a one-seam coat designed by Patrick Kelly in 1984. (See my post on Patrick Kelly’s Vogue patterns here.)
After Kelly moved to Paris in 1979, he worked as a costume designer for Le Palace nightclub while also selling his coats on the sidewalk of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. When he secured a stall at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the famous Porte de Clignancourt flea market, his raw-edged jersey tube dresses caught the attention of his first backer, Françoise Chassagnac of Victoire. Thanks to Chassagnac’s connections, Kelly’s entire collection was featured in Elle magazine:
Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s coat dates to 1985, the design is the same as those Kelly sold on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Kelly’s one-seam coat would become a recurring feature in the designer’s work. A rethinking of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s iconic 1961 one-seam coat, it may have been inspired by Issey Miyake’s cocoon coat—Kelly was once the house guest of Miyake’s publicist, Victoria Rivière, in Paris.
The original coat is a quilted cotton knit. It has a simple revers opening in front, box pleats in the back, and batwing sleeves formed by the shoulder seam:
These technical drawings show the coat front and back:
Fabric requirements: About 3.5 yards (3.2 m) of 60″ (~150 cm) fabric
Recommended fabrics: Fabrics with a good hand and drape, e.g. double knits and double-faced fabrics. The original is a quilted single knit.
Finished length: 52″ (132 cm)
Pattern length from top to bottom: 57.5″ (146 cm)
Tips, caveats: No separate instructions; scale and seam allowances are not marked. The coat must be cut on the cross grain. The original coat has a simple turn and stitch finish, with a sleeve binding piece for the sleeve openings.
A Parisian friend of Kelly’s has posted instructions to make a doll-scale version based on her Patrick Kelly original.
Thanks to Monica Brown, Senior Collections Assistant, Costume and Textiles, for answering questions about the project, and Paula M. Sim, Costume and Textiles intern, for drafting the pattern.
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) found success as an expatriate in Paris: he was the first American, and also the first black designer, to be elected to the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter. Much of Kelly’s work references his southern, African-American heritage through the use of vibrant colour, buttons and bows, and reappropriated black memorabilia motifs such as watermelons and golliwogs. (Patrick Kelly shopping bags emblazoned with his golliwog logo, as seen in the above photo, were deemed too controversial to be used in the United States.)
Between 1988 and 1991, Vogue Patterns licensed Patrick Kelly designs, first in the Individualist line and later as Paris Originals. Here is a selection of Patrick Kelly sewing patterns, grouped by collection.
1. Patrick Kelly Spring/Summer 1988 prêt-à-porter
Vogue Patterns’ licensing began with Kelly’s Spring/Summer 1988 collection, his first under contract with Warnaco. This collection played with the culture and racial stereotypes of the American south. (Watch a YouTube video of the collection starting here.) Vogue 2077, the first of several Patrick Kelly patterns featuring African-American model Gail O’Neill, is a flamboyant peplum suit with back bow:
The suit seems to have made the cover of Vogue Patterns magazine:
Vogue 2078 is a tiered, off-the-shoulder dress for stretch knits:
More knit dresses from this collection can be seen in this photo by Oliviero Toscani, the photographer best known for his controversial Benetton ads:
2. Patrick Kelly Fall/Winter 1988-89 prêt-à-porter
Variations on the heart motif characterized Kelly’s Fall 1988 collection, entitled More Love; the collection was later included in “Heart Strings,” a touring fundraiser for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA). Vogue 2165 is a long-sleeved, colour-blocked dress with heart-shaped bodice:
A version with red contrast can be seen in Toscani’s ad campaign; the red bodice also appeared in the bridal look that closed the collection. Given the ‘love’ theme, it’s surprising that the red version was not photographed for the Vogue pattern:
Vogue 2304, a stretch-knit dress with Kelly’s trademark buttons applied in a rainbow triangle, is visible in the Toscani photo at the top of this post:
3. Patrick Kelly Spring/Summer 1989 prêt-à-porter
Having just been elected to the Chambre syndicale in June 1988, Kelly showed a Mona Lisa-themed collection for Spring 1989 in the courtyard of the Louvre. Vogue 2286 is a pattern for a full skirt, wide-legged pants, and a double-breasted top with notched shawl collar:
The red version of the top can be seen in this campaign photo by Oliviero Toscani:
4. Patrick Kelly Fall/Winter 1989 prêt-à-porter
Presented the year of the bicentenary of French Revolution, Kelly’s final collection was conceived as a celebration of France and America. Vogue 2385 is a shawl-effect dress designed for stretch knits; the contrast front inset extends into a shoulder drape. The illustration’s red drape version may be seen in Runway of Love:
The grey stripe version was featured in the Fall/Winter 1989 ad campaign:
Vogue 2556 is a button-studded ensemble consisting of jacket, skirt, and coat. The design requires forty-one buttons for the jacket alone:
The Vogue 2556 jacket and skirt were photographed for this Apollo Landing-themed campaign image:
A hot pink version, included in the Philadelphia exhibit, has a matching hat and cape, and rainbow buttons:
Despite covering only two years, the sewing patterns are an excellent sample of Kelly’s bold and playful work.
Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love runs through November 30th, 2014. Update: show extended to December 7th, 2014.