HED:Tupelo native/fashion designer remembered with scholarship
By Brenda Owen
Continuing the legacy of a renowned Tupelo native, a scholarship fund has been set up to enable deserving young students to pursue their talents at The Memphis College of Art.
The late Gayle Kirkpatrick, a fashion designer known for his youthful, modern approach to American sportswear, died at age 62 on January 25 at his home in New York City. Fellow designer and friend Howard Lawrence said the scholarship fund is a fitting tribute to Kirkpatrick's life and work.
"We are attempting to donate an annual scholarship in his name to perpetuate his memory at his alma mater, The Memphis College of Art, and enable his name to live on," Lawrence said. "We want to give his friends in Tupelo and North Mississippi the opportunity to be a part of this tribute to him by giving to this scholarship fund in his name."
Lawrence said the college also plans to mount an exhibition in November of Kirkpatrick's work, awards, sketches, editorials, scrapbooks, and some of the clothes he designed.
Having gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with his soft, big-sleeved silhouettes and flowing designs, Kirkpatrick spent almost 40 years in the apparel and retail industry. In his obituary, Women's Wear Daily noted, "Kirkpatrick was in the vanguard of designers who turned away from structured clothes to the soft easy styles that prevailed in the 1970s."
Born in Tupelo, Kirkpatrick graduated from The Memphis College of Art in 1955. He went to New York City in 1957 and found his first job in display at Saks Fifth Avenue.
"He later held jobs as a sketcher at an evening wear firm called Miss America, which made cocktail dresses, modern couture, and worked for Arnold Scassi as his assistant," he said.
In 1963, he became design director at Aileen, a cotton knit firm, Lawrence said. He designed children's wear for Suzy Brooks and Mode Kiddie Coats and also designed for Dorian Loungewear.
Two years later, Kirkpatrick began a partnership called Atelier, where he designed sportswear under the name Gayle Kirkpatrick for Atelier. During this time, he also worked as a freelance designer for loungewear and leather firms.
When Atelier closed after three years, Kirkpatrick began designing under his own Gayle Kirkpatrick label. He was backed in this venture by Ben Shaw, an industry entrepreneur who backed many firms and was one of the founders of Oscar de la Renta. The Gayle Kirkpatrick label lasted five years.
After closing that business, Kirkpatrick held a series of positions, including design director for Breckenridge, a division of Leslie Fay, Tudor Square and Augustus, also working in private label at Carter Hawley Hale.
In his career on Seventh Avenue, Kirkpatrick designed everything from children's wear to menswear to furs to evening dresses, according to his obituary in The New York Times. But, he achieved his greatest success with moderately priced sportswear, winning a Coty Fashion Critics Award in 1965, the year he opened his first business, Atelier. He was also recipient of the prestigious Newman-Marcus Award several years later.
Kirkpatrick retired in 1993 after working for two years as a designer at Associated Merchandising Corporation. He is survived by his two cousins, Bettye Ann DeBerry of Henderson, Tennessee and Frances Pearson of Louisville, both of whom are natives of New Albany.