Patrick Kelly was raised in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by his mother and grandmother, Ethel Rainey, who became his biggest muse. Kelly’s distinctive use of mismatched buttons was inspired by his grandmother’s mending of his family’s garments.

Patrick Kelly was the first American designer accepted into the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter. His Southern roots, racial symbols, and displays of Black happiness were boldly and unapologetically integrated into his works.

Throughout his life, Kelly was interested in challenging racist iconography, particularly in the American South. Kelly purposefully included photos of the golliwog in his collections. This fictional Black character first appeared in children’s literature around the turn of the century and stayed popular until the 1970s. His runway presentations began with a prayer backstage, continued with a heart spray-painted on the stage in respect to urban street art, and concluded with a cheerful celebration.