Perhaps the most significant garment on display, however, is the one that stands beneath a spotlight at the entrance to the gallery: a dress from Patrick Kelly’s fall 1986 collection whose bodice is covered in a variety of buttons. In a 1987 profile of the designer, journalist Bonnie Johnson wrote that Kelly decorated garments with cheap buttons as an homage to his grandmother, who, when mending his clothes, often used the technique to “detract from having to use mismatched buttons.”[2] The garment acts as a celebration of black excellence, reflected throughout the entire exhibition. In many ways, the garment sums up the experiences of many of the designers on view in Black Fashion Designers: to turn their histories – however diverse, however challenging, and however complex – into art.

Black Fashion Designers is on view through May 16, 2017 at the Museum at FIT in New York, NY.

Images Courtesy of the Museum at FIT
[1] “The Rainbow Coalition.” Newsweek, July 12, 1992. Accessed February 22, 2017.
[2] Johnson, Bonnie. “In Paris, His Slinky Dresses Have Made Mississippi-Born Designer Patrick Kelly the New King of Cling.” People, June 15, 1987. Accessed February 22, 2017.