Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss isn’t the first designer to decamp to Brooklyn—Eckhaus Latta have been showing in trendy Bushwick for the past few seasons—but he might be the first to bring Fashion Week to Weeksville. The neighborhood has a particularly rich and special history. Founded by James Weeks, an African-American man, in 1838, little over a decade after slavery was abolished in New York, it became one of the country’s first free-black communitiesKerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss isn’t the first designer to decamp to Brooklyn—Eckhaus Latta have been showing in trendy Bushwick for the past few seasons—but he might be the first to bring Fashion Week to Weeksville.
The neighborhood has a particularly rich and special history. Founded by James Weeks, an African-American man, in 1838, little over a decade after slavery was abolished in New York, it became one of the country’s first free-black communities. The Pyer Moss show took place in the grounds of the Weeksville Heritage Center, where four extant houses formed the backdrop. Moments before the lights when up on the runway, a gospel choir dressed in all white lined up on the grassy lawn. The resulting tableau was like something out of a Kerry James Marshall painting, conjuring serenity and joy despite the heavy gray rain clouds overhead.
Jean-Raymond had been pondering the current landscape of African-American life while making of this collection. He came across a copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book in his research, a guidebook first published in the 1930s that served as a tool for black travelers in Jim Crow–era America, signposting restaurants and hotels that were relative safe zones from discrimination and establishments to avoid. “It got me starting to imagine what the African-American experience would look like without the constant threat of racism,” said the designer. He enlisted rising art star Derrick Adams to help bring his vision to life, commissioning 10 paintings that were woven throughout the collection. There was a painterly image of a young black man grilling burgers printed on a simple white T-shirt, and a black page boy and flower girl at a wedding on an oversized silk shirt. Easily the most touching portrait in the bunch, and perhaps the most exquisite piece in the collection overall, was a black father lovingly cradling his baby, rendered in glittering beads on a shift dress. “Just black people doing normal things,” was how Jean-Raymond put it.
In a moment when even the most ordinary aspects of black life seem under constant threat—when a black man or woman innocently barbecuing in their own backyard has been known to elicit an armed police response—these clothes presented a radical counterpoint to a narrative of sensationalism and tragedy porn, speaking volumes more than a political slogan tee.
Jean-Raymond is as committed to reclaiming the legacy of the black and brown designers who came before him as he is to making a name for himself. Last season it was Cross Colours. This season, 1990s streetwear label FUBU, or For Us By Us, partnered on a capsule. “We wanted to highlight designers that weren’t seen,” said Jean-Raymond. “These companies grossed hundreds of millions in their prime, but weren’t recognized in the same way that brands like Donna Karan were because they were considered urban, not fashion.”
Jean-Raymond unveiled his first collection for Reebok last season, and the partnership has been pivotal to his brand’s expansion—many of his former interns are now full-time paid members of his team. The new white and pink quilted sneaker booties he’s created for the second installment of the Reebok partnership are likely to take his business another step forward, too; ditto the graphic ponchos and tracksuits. All in all, cause for celebration—in this case, a friends and family cookout in the backyard of the clapboard Weeksville homes that took place immediately after the show. Just black people doing normal things.
Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss show cased FUBU The Collection in his Spring 2019 Review at New York Fashion week.. Click here to see Pyer Moss complete 2019 Spring Review.