Black Supernovas: Black Gay Designers as Critical Resource for Contemporary Black Fashion Studies

by Eric Darnell Pritchard


Black supernovas: Black gay designers as critical resource for contemporary black fashion studies If you take the Paris Metro line 2 to Philippe Auguste Station, make the brief walk onto Boulevard de Menilmontant, enter the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and walk toward a section at the cemetery’s centre called Division 50, you will find him. Not Oscar Wilde. Not Richard Wright. Not Jim Morrison. Amidst now ancient appearing crypts with broken, dusted stained glass windows that retain the solemnity, if not the grandeur, of the day they were erected, and among debris–broken branches, maps from the cemetery’s general office, dried flowers blown from one burial plot to another–lies Patrick Kelly’s tomb. Even with the name etched in stone now fading from clear visibility, this is his place. Staring back at you from the top of the tomb is a golliwog (1)–wide eyes, red lips, gold earrings and jet black face–above a large red heart fashioned as a button, all signatures of Kelly’s fashion house, Patrick Kelly Paris. And if you, like I do, believe that our dear ancestors have something to teach us, and that they are invested in the lives of their descendants, then you also know that this tomb is where a story begins, not ends. My argument here is for what ancestorship, as a research and writing methodology and/or ritual of personal and collective historical recovery and sustenance, can offer us as a critical intellectual resource for the emergence of this exponentially growing field of black fashion studies. Within black fashion studies, as there is with fashion studies generally, we have many great historical studies or works that display a historical sensibility and employ historical research and writing practice. What I am advocating for is turning to ancestors and the details of their lives and works as a discursive edifice for exploring historic moments beyond the surface understanding of particular figures and critical events, and broadening the epistemological and pedagogical scope of black fashion studies beyond the limits of what is seemingly possible.

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