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Creative Notions: Nicole Benefield

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 apparel designer Nicole Benefield about her sketch and Kelly’s legacy.

sketch of two women wearing black and red outfits with circle decorations

Tell us about the medium you selected to create your sketch; what informed that decision?

I start with a croquis figure. Lately I work in marker, but I learned at Parsons in gouache; since then, marker [has] changed my life. I do a “holding line” in design pencil to get that line quality. I did little croquis of the garments before I started, then I began the illustrations. I started building it that way.

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?

On the left, there’s an oversize coat with a short A-line sleeve—kind of the DNA of my brand. The pants with the cutouts and covered buttons are leather. On the right, I interpreted a sweatshirt the way that I imagine Patrick would today. There’s a net overlay on top of the sweatshirt that is embellished with buttons.

Describe your relationship with the enduring legacy of Patrick Kelly; what have Mr. Kelly’s style and story meant to you?

I was probably in college when I first heard his name. For this project, I went online and did a lot of research about who he was and I was really blown away—blown away by how his story sounds so much like those of right now.

Nicole Benefield headshot

Nicole Benefield

Nicole Benefield’s Parsons-honed skills factor centrally in her success as an apparel designer. Beyond single garments, she intuitively builds collections, as she has done for a series of landmark brands (LOFT, Banana Republic, Elizabeth and James). She has now stepped into the spotlight, founding her namesake brand Nicole Benefield Portfolio, which centers boldly feminine, investment outerwear. @nicolebenefield_portfolio

Kibwe Chase-Marshall

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.

See all Creative Notions posts.