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Ellis, Perry (1940-1986)  
page: 1  2  3  

Rumors that Ellis had AIDS began circulating in the fashion world. Company spokespeople denied it, and Ellis himself was evasive, commenting, "There will always be rumors. They come and go, and there is nothing you can do about it. But I know how I feel."

Although Barker's decline resulted in increasing absence from the office, Ellis kept a busy schedule. In 1984 he joined with Levi Strauss to produce a sportswear line called Perry Ellis America and brought back the Portfolio line, this time with men's wear as well as women's, to offer fashionable classic looks at moderate prices. He was also elected president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

Ellis had long wanted a child and conceived one with film producer and screenwriter Barbara Gallagher, who had been a friend for about a decade. Their daughter, Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis, was born in November 1984. Ellis bought an elegant house in Brentwood, California for Gallagher and the baby.

Over the next year Ellis juggled work, his duties as CFDA president, and, most importantly, caring for Barker, who was failing rapidly.

Barker was hospitalized in late 1985, but Ellis brought him home at Christmastime. Barker died on January 2, 1986 at the age of thirty-seven. His death was publicly reported as due to lung cancer.

A few weeks laer, on January 19, Ellis made one of his last public appearances, at the CFDA's annual awards ceremony. He had to be assisted to the podium by his old friend Robert MacDonald.

Although Ellis was desperately ill, he insisted on attending a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research in late April. A longtime friend later speculated that Ellis may have intended this as a tacit acknowledgment that he had AIDS.

Ellis was also determined to appear at the showing of his fall collection on May 8. Far too weak to close the show with his traditional skip down the runway, he could only walk to the top of it with the support of his two design assistants. The audience rose to give him a standing ovation.

Fashion critics praised the collection. Nina Hyde of the Washington Post called it "classic, but special in the hands of this designer." She pointed to characteristic elements--"the familiar cuts" that defined the Ellis silhouette and the typical styles such as wrap coats, this time "brightened . . . with a strong palette of pastels." She highlighted the importance of sweaters and noted that "he introduced the cable-stitched and patterned sweaters that have influenced fashion everywhere."

Before the writers had even written their reviews MacDonald was driving Ellis from the showroom to the hospital. He remained there, eventually lapsing into a coma. Ellis died on May 30, 1986.

His demise was attributed to viral encephalitis, a common immediate cause of death in AIDS patients.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  Fashion

The association between homosexuality and fashion is multifaceted, ranging from the role of clothes as signifiers of sexual orientation to the immense contributions gay men have made at all levels of the fashion industry.

arts >> Batt, Bryan

Actor and designer Bryan Batt achieved fame playing a closeted advertising executive on television, but in his own life he has been active in affirming the naturalness of homosexuality.

arts >> Ford, Tom

Heralded as the savior of men's fashion, openly gay designer Tom Ford has both tapped into and assisted the fundamental change in men's attitude towards their appearance; he has since become a film director.

arts >> Gernreich, Rudi

Associated particularly with the 1960s fashion revolution, Rudi Gernreich was one of the great modernists of fashion design, making his clothes futuristic both technically and stylistically.

arts >> Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)

The first international fashion superstar, Halston dressed and befriended some of America's most glamorous women.

arts >> Hudson, Rock

A product of Hollywood's star system, Rock Hudson became an international symbol of heterosexuality, wearing a mask until it was savagely ripped off when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

arts >> Klein, Calvin

American designer Calvin Klein has created an extraordinarily successful fashion empire through his simple and elegant designs and his skilful employment of provocative advertising campaigns that are saturated with homoeroticism.

arts >> Smith, Willi

Perhaps the most successful African-American designer in fashion history, Willi Smith designed clothing that was stylish yet affordable and that people enjoyed wearing.

arts >> Versace, Gianni

Renowned not only for his lavish tailoring and tight body-hugging garments but also for his exuberant personal taste, Gianni Versace never hid his homosexuality.


Conant, Jennet, Peter McKillop, and Andrew Murr. "A Designer's Death." Newsweek (June 9, 1986): 25.

Hyde, Nina. "Fashion Designer Perry Ellis Dies." Washington Post (May 31, 1986): B6.

_____. "Perry Ellis' Classics & Colors." Washington Post (May 9, 1986): D3.

Moor, Jonathan. Perry Ellis. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Morris, Bernadine. "Perry Ellis, Fashion Designer, Dead." New York Times (May 31, 1986): 1, 32.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Ellis, Perry  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 20, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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