Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss doesn’t seek to make anyone comfortable with his work. A courtesan of controversy and a master showman, he is always willing to go there: Buck tradition and show his first Haute Couture presentation in New York instead of Paris. Transport guests an hour away from their homes in shuttle buses. Throw thorny topics such as black excellence and innovation in the faces of a stereotypically white washed and elitist fashion industry. Fashion Reporter Teri Agins called Jean-Raymond, “The Great Disruptor,” and that spirit truly infused his first couture show, which featured a performance by 22Gz and an introductory speech by Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown.
Couture consists of avant garde and museum worthy pieces reserved for epic red carpets and the elite. This was the occasion for Jean-Raymond to truly show his artistry and create gowns and chic separates for the A-list. But instead of myopically focusing on his own genius, Jean-Raymond shared the stage with inspiring, trailblazing African American innovators. Not only did the show take place at Villa Lewaro, the mansion of black beauty pioneer Madam CJ Walker, the first female self made millionaire and the developer of revolutionary hair growth products; Jean-Raymond took the discovery further with a parade of creations referencing black inventions. An Air Conditioner dress was a nod to black entrepreneur Frederick Jones . A red bottle cap dress was inspired by black innovators Amos E. Long and Albert A. Jones. A Super Soaker water gun ensemble paid homage to its creator Lonni Johnson, while a yellow leather stop light dress honored inventor Garrett A Morgan. A typewriter suit featuring sheets of paper like material referenced pioneer C. Latham Sholes. And on and on (read more about the clothing and their inspirations here).
Jean-Raymond simultaneously paid tribute to their designs while adding himself to the mix of iconic masterminds who set a new standard of excellence. While most looks skewed playful and fun, one of the garments: a Refrigerator dress (a nod to its originator Frederick McKinley Jones), took a serious tone as Jean-Raymond rhetorically asked, “But Who Invented Black Trauma?”
That question is poignant--one that we’ve all had to grapple with in recent months, as quarantine forced the world to take a hard look at civil rights injustices and unrest. From George Floyd to Ahmad Arbery to Breonna Taylor, this past year has shown that people of color in America and their contributions are all too often disrespected and undervalued. As the rain clears and we emerge from lockdown, we can now reckon with a new day and a new light of acknowledgement, education, and reconciliation.
But the onus is on the individual to do their research. While Jean-Raymond’s avant garde collection marked a turning point in conversations about race, couture, and the history of the United States, as Madam CJ Walker once said, “Don’t sit and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
Jean-Raymond did just that.