In celebration of the exhibition Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love and Black History Month, the Kelly Initiative and the de Young paired up to invite creatives across fields to share a sketch inspired by Kelly and his designs. Here, Kibwe Chase-Marshall, cofounder of the Kelly Initiative, speaks with illustrator Coz Conover about his sketch and Kelly’s legacy.
Tell us about the medium you selected to create your sketch; what informed that decision?
I am a pen ink and paper kind of person. I always come back to my pen and paper; that’s my happy place. I did some rough pencil sketches to come up with the outfits, but when I sat to draw this trio, I just went in with pen and paper. Then I retraced it and colored it on an iPad.
Describe the garments you chose to sketch; does your sketch depict an archival Kelly piece, an evolution of one of his signature looks, or a creation that is purely of your own design?
I chose to illustrate a trio of looks inspired by Patrick Kelly’s work, but I designed pieces that I dreamed up myself. I chose to sketch what I would make if I was heading his design studio now. I did three looks because I was really inspired by the Oliviero Toscani photos of Patrick Kelly’s clothes that show these joyful groups of women. On the far left, I drew a skintight cocktail dress covered in Polaroid photos of buttons. I chose to put hosiery on [it] because those black pantyhose are such a part of his look. The middle figure is an elegant creature; she is wearing a look with the Patrick Kelly icons exploded all over her. The figure on the right embodies the rigor of what Patrick Kelly does.
Describe your relationship with the enduring legacy of Patrick Kelly; what have Mr. Kelly’s style and story meant to you?
Something that I love about Patrick Kelly is the way that his clothes feel like they came from an illustrator, like they came right out of a sketchbook. They have that “candy red” energy, that graphic nature. When I think of him, I think of people, a team, a community.
Coz Conover often evokes an elusive, Garbo-like mystique: details about exactly who he is and where he comes from remain intentionally eclipsed by the digital virality of his one-of-a-kind illustrations. These Instagram-published renderings celebrate, amplify, and trick out a myriad of resolutely Black femme experiences, personae, and advocacies. A SoCal resident, Conover pops into his own scroll occasionally to drop an elaborately staged seaside selfie punctuated by glittery lips and flame-red calla lilies. @cozcon
Kibwe Chase-Marshall cut his professional teeth as an apparel designer, working within the studios of some of 7th Avenue's most influential brands (Michael Kors, Isaac Mizrahi, Gap Inc.), before carving out a space in the editorial community as a contributing writer and market editor (Town & Country, Paper, Elle.com). Since 2018, he has diligently operated as an equity advocate, most recently cofounding the Kelly Initiative, a four-point, industry-evolving plan to increase access to opportunities for Black fashion professionals. @byanyseamnecessary
Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love is on view at the de Young museum from October 23, 2021 to April 24, 2022.