Patrick Kelly was born to Daniel and Letha Kelly on September 24, 1954 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His father worked in several different capacities, including as a cab driver and insurance agent, and his mother, who held an advanced degree, was employed as an educator of home economics. When his father left their family, Patrick’s grandmother, Ethel Rainey, often stepped in his stead to co-parent Patrick. Patrick’s mother, grandmother and his aunt, Bertha, who taught Patrick how to sew, had profound effects on him, his life and his vision.
It was his grandmother who indirectly inspired him to become a fashion designer. She worked as a domestic in the home of a White family and on one particular occasion, his grandmother brought home a fashion magazine. When Patrick, who was about six years old, inquired about the lack of African-American women featured, she explained that designers did not have time, i.e. interest, for Black women. This omission would motivate Patrick to correct this by creating his own designs for women who looked like the women in his life.
Kelly, having taught himself to sew, and by the time he was in junior high, he had begun to create dresses for girls in his neighborhood. He expanded his repertoire to dress windows of department stores and sketch for advertisements carried in newspapers by the time he graduated high school, where he won superlatives “Friendliest Boy” and “Best Boy Dancer”. Upon graduating in 1972, he moved to the nearby city of Jackson in order to attend Jackson State University. At Jackson State, Kelly, on scholarship, studied African American history and art history. However, after matriculating two years, he decided to move to Atlanta for better opportunities that would allow him to become involved in fashion design and live in an environment that was much more favorable to African-Americans and their advancement.