For the third show in his “American, Also” series — dubbed “Sister” — Pyer Moss founder Kerby Jean-Raymond wanted to focus on the understated contributions of black women. And he delivered an inspiring experience attendees won’t soon forget.
“It was one of the most incredible shows that I had ever seen in my entire life. That wasn’t a fashion show; that was a movie. That was the best I’ve ever seen. I was touched,” NBA star PJ Tucker told FN from the front row.
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In front of thousands in the historic Kings Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., the designer presented a collection that included eye-catching heels, boots and more with Aurora James and longtime collaborator Reebok (which included the debut of the Experiment 4 – Fury Trail sneaker).
What resonated most wasn’t the collection itself. The designer’s depiction of a highly personal journey and his broader focus on diversity and inclusion is helping him become one of the most watched young talents today.
“[The show] changed my life. It was transformative, transcendent. Gave me power, flight, things that sometimes I forget I have,” rap star Vic Mensa told FN backstage. “And the message of surrendering to God to change me, that s**t makes me emotional.”
With “Sister” in the books, Jean-Raymond wants the conversation to evolve. Now, he wants it to shift to society recognizing the worth and cultural contributions of African Americans.
“When you hear all the xenophobia, all of this crude racist language in our politics and our country being divided, stuff like that, it’s some s**t that could make me as an American who was born right here in Downstate Hospital feel like an immigrant,” Jean-Raymond told reporters after the show. “A lot of us, whether we were born here or not — first generation, 100th generation, it don’t f**king matter — we don’t feel like we’re part of America, we don’t feel American, because of the obstacles that are built up against us.”
He continued, “That can cause depression, can cause you to give up, can cause you to feel like you’re worthless, can cause you to feel like you always have to flee, could make you feel like you’re never at home and what I aim to do is to make disenfranchised people, black people, with this series, and minorities and women know and understand how important they are to this thing called America.”
The Pyer Moss leader also had a message backstage for companies concerning diversity and inclusion efforts.
“So [many] of these companies take our s**t and sell it back to us as luxury and refuse to collaborate with us, build up walls that are invisible — and sometimes visible — to keep us out of what they have established, but utilize our ideas to grow their companies,” Jean-Raymond said. “I just want to say it’s not dangerous reaching back down and checking the pulse of the people around you, who need the opportunities and wouldn’t necessarily get them. These companies would be surprised with what they found.”
He continued, “Reebok did a dangerous thing by signing me. I was not an ideal candidate. I wasn’t doing wild sales numbers, I wasn’t trending, I didn’t have any celebrity backing, I was speaking politics in my art and somebody there saw the potential in that and how I can [mobilize] a community, and they took a chance. All you companies that have profitability with no souls can reach back down and reinvest that money into communities, and you’d be shocked with how fast your growth would accelerate. Reebok did it and you should do it.”
Despite the immediate and overwhelmingly positive reaction to his NYWF effort, Jean-Raymond said, paired with other milestones achieved this year, he feels no additional pressure to deliver. “I’m under nobody’s schedule but my own. I will never ever work under anyone else’s schedule but my own,” he told FN.
What will now consume some of Jean-Raymond’s time, however, is the CFDA, where he was named to the board of directors last week. Although he’s now a board member, he is still unclear what his involvement will be.
“I have grandiose ideas [but] I don’t want to tell you, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ I haven’t even sat through a meeting to understand what kind of people I’m dealing with yet. I hope that they’re malleable, I hope that they understand that the issues around diversity and inclusion in fashion start and end with economic resistance and an inability to mobilize financial resources and financial talent.
He continued, “If [CFDA members] reach down and allow their endowment, their funds and their resources to work and create opportunities in that realm, then we’d have a completely different Fashion Week landscape. It wouldn’t just be crowding around Pyer Moss. … CFDA is tapped into so many larger avenues and sponsorships and New York Fashion Week and all these different types of things, they can literally change lives by instituting simple things, simple measures to create opportunities for other brands and designers.”
Jean-Raymond believes if the CFDA was more proactive in implementing these initiatives, fashion would be transformed for the better.
“It could save and adjust retail, it could really empower an entire generation of young creative talent. It’s actually kind of sad that they haven’t done anything yet. I can’t say what’s going to happen, but I know that’s my intent and if that’s not what it turns out to be, then I’ll just walk the f**k out.”
Before exiting backstage for the after-party, Jean-Raymond revealed details of his next show.
“The next one is not going to be a trilogy; it’s going to be a one-and-done. I am halfway through with it, I did the Reebok portion of it already,” Jean-Raymond said. “I have the concept, I think it’s really fire. All I can say is it’s not about race because that’s not my thing, that’s not my schtick. I’m not the race guy. I’m the social [guy]; I care about people.”
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