Fashion Designer Patrick Kelly Dies -- Paris-Based Industry Welcomed American Of Humor, Imagination

Patrick Kelly added a fresh touch to fashion. There was no one quite like him. He spoofed fashion and he spoofed himself. He called himself a black, male Lucille Ball because he loved to make people laugh.

Kelly, 35, died early this week in Paris of bone-marrow disease and a brain tumor.

To understand how extraordinary he was, you have to understand that Paris, a city that is very serious about fashion, embraced the American-born Kelly by allowing him to join the prestigious Chambre Syndicale, a professional fashion organization that is made up of the top 43 French designers. Kelly was the only American ever admitted.

``It's a tragic loss to the fashion industry,'' said Sarah Davies, fashion coordinator at Nordstrom. The store carries Kelly's designs, and Davies had attended his fashion openings in Paris for the past three years.

``His clothes are fun and feminine and had a great impact on fashion,'' Davies said.

Kelly had quite a following here and was scheduled to appear at Nordstrom's San Francisco store this spring.

Several years ago one of Kelly's designs, a black dress covered with bold and bright buttons - his trademark - turned up on the runway at a benefit for the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It was apparent immediately that this was a new

designer with fresh ideas to keep an eye on.

He had been ill since before the French ready-to-wear collections were shown in Paris last fall. He was so much a part of the collection, the VIPs at Warnaco, his parent company, decided they couldn't carry on without him and cancelled his showing.

Time magazine described one of Kelly's early shows, held in the courtyard of the Louvre, in a profile published last April:

``Across the cobblestones, as if for a medieval tournament, white tents opened their flaps to costumed crowds. Celebrities, fashion journalists and fashion retailers

from Kansas City to Kuwait milled about.

``Suddenly, without fanfare, a man in cut-off overalls, a ponytail and phosphorescent orange high tops strolled onto an enclosed runway and slowly spray-painted a huge red heart on a white backdrop. With the exaggerated staginess of a Looney Tune, he turned to the audience, pressed a finger to his lips as if to say ``Shhh!'' and tiptoed out. Only then did thumping rock music explode, spotlights ignite and towering models burst onto the runway in kaleidoscopic color.''

Kelly was the man in the overalls.

The obituary of another famous designer appeared next to Kelly's in yesterday's New York Times. Milliner Lilly Dache died at 97.

Dache, who came to this country from France at age 16, had spotted a ``Milliner Wanted'' sign in a New York City shop window. She got the job, eventually bought the shop, and went on to become a household word in the days when every woman's wardrobe included hats.

Her customers included such stars as Sonja Henie, Audrey Hepburn, Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich. Loretta Young bought Dache's last 30 hats in the '60s, when millinery hit the skids and Dache decided to retire.

The infant department at Frederick & Nelson is having a baby fair beginning tomorrow and continuing through Sunday.