Kerby Jean-Raymond with his brand, Pyer Moss, became the first Black-American designer to show Haute Couture during Paris Couture Week. It was a historical first for a young, black-owned brand like Pyer Moss to show in one of the most exclusive and predominantly white industries.
Translated as “high dressmaking” in French, Haute Couture is arguably the most grandiose industry within fashion. Paris’ Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) tightly controls every aspect of Couture with very specific rules for qualification. Not only do fashion houses have to be invited to participate in couture week, but they must also demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship: garments must be constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high-quality fabric, and sewn with close attention to detail.
Entitled “Wat U Iz,” Pyer Moss’s couture debut was originally scheduled to take place on July 8. Jean-Raymond is known for his dynamic, unapologetically black approach to fashion. The collection was set to highlight 25 inventions pioneered by black people. It was held at the estate of the first female, self-made millionaire Madam CJ Walker: Villa Lewaro in Irvington, NY.
Though Jean-Raymond conceptualized Pyer Moss in 2012, he first showed at New York Fashion Week in 2015. The Spring/Summer debut spotlighted the Black Lives Matter movement using a range of mediums: fashion, art and a short film. The New York native forced his audience to confront the political and social climate of the time. By directly taking a stance against racial injustice in policing and intertwining it with his designs, Jean-Raymond spearheaded a movement towards unapologetic activism in the fashion industry.
On the day of the premiere, the house was full of creatives, journalists and fans who were highly anticipating the collection. Up and coming photographer and Howard’s very own 2020-2021 Mr. Freshman, Obiora Okeke, says the atmosphere was like no other.
“My first emotion was kind of in awe because I had always heard about this side of New York and now I’m actually in this space,” said [classification/ major if you have it] Okeke.The young creative says he was able to grow his portfolio tremendously.
“Overnight, I went from two celebrities to now 11 in my portfolio,”he said.
“This experience is what ultimately, I’ll look back on and say, is what catapulted me forward,” he continued.
However, before a rainbow, it inevitably rains. And in Pyer Moss’ case, the storm came in full force. Though prepared for a drizzle, Jean-Raymond and his team were not equipped for the tropical storm that followed. As a true testament to the community surrounding Pyer Moss, guests sat patiently while the team contemplated their next move.
After multiple Instagram updates and three hours of waiting, “Wat U Iz” was officially postponed until Saturday, July 10. Not only was the Pyer Moss team slated with the task of reconstructing the entire show in 48 hours, but Brittany Escovedo, the founder of the production company behind Pyer Moss’ shows, says they were also tasked with getting the Fédération de la Haute Couture to extend their calendar so that Pyer Moss “could still be listed on the couture calendar and have Kerby be the first Black American designer to show for couture” accordion to Paper Magazine .
Ironically enough, Howard student and Pyer Moss intern, Jalen Barret, says “a sense of calm” loomed on the team that Saturday morning.
“On Thursday we almost got like a trial run” which he says, “enabled us to be perfect on Saturday. I don’t think anybody would change how everything happened.”
And just like that, the Pyer Moss team pulled off the impossible in 48 hours: the runway was rebuilt, guests were seated, models and performers were dressed and the show began. Reciting the infamous slogan “Power to the people,” activist Elaine Brown opened dressed in an all-white skirt set, checkerboard printed boots and black lipstick.
The former Black Panther strode the runway as she recalled the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s and ’70s while encouraging the audience to continue the movement for Black Liberation. Concluding with one more “Power to the people,” Browngave way to rapper 22G’z’s performance before the highly anticipated designs hit the runway.
Okay Player culture writer and show attendee Robyn Mowatt says the looks displayed on the runway were more than walking history lessons, and that each look was extremely nuanced. s.
“The designs were really on point in terms of honoring the black creators and inventors who dreamt up all of the different things that we saw,” Mowatt said.
Referencing the telephone, the ice cream, and the Super Soaker, Mowatt highlights a connection between Kerby and the inventions he decided to spotlight.
“A lot of the pieces also spoke to Kerby’s childhood and different imagery he holds near and dear to him,”Mowatt said.
Other looks that caught the attention of social media included the hot roller trench coat, the Peanut Butter jar dress labeled “Pyer Moss” and the white refrigerator reading “But who invented Black trauma?” This larger-than-life, humorous aesthetic intertwined with more serious cultural references made for a show that left both the guests and social media marveling.
After a trying year, “Wat U Iz” was more than a fashion show. For many creatives, it was a reunion. For the Pyer Moss team, it was a celebration of black culture and artistry. For rising sophomore Okeke, it was an opportunity. As one of the youngest photographers invited to the show, Okeke expressed gratitude to Kerby and the Pyer Moss team for being accessible to both seasoned and young creatives.
“In the world of creativity, no one wants to give you your first chance. This was my first chance,” he said.
Kerby understands that Pyer Moss is a vehicle. After a successful take two, he told Vogue that Pyer Moss is “a platform. That’s what we do well, not just the clothes but the message, the story, and the whole community around it.”