2018 was big for Pyer Moss, the label helmed by designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. The brand put on the most talked-about show at New York Fashion Week in September, the second installment of its ongoing Reebok collaboration blew up, and Jean-Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award. Gunna walked in Jean-Raymond’s show, Tracee Ellis Ross and Gabrielle Union wore his clothes, and the whole fashion industry was raving about his vision, which asserts the everyday black experience as a part of the world of luxury, and puts politics on the runway (the theme of his Spring 2016 show, for example, was Black Lives Matter). Everything about Pyer Moss is fresh and urgent, and the industry couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.
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Then, Jean-Raymond announced in February that he wouldn’t be showing at New York Fashion Week. Was he exhausted? Shifting gears? In fact, Jean-Raymond has spent the past several months honing his radical approach to the fashion system, rethinking everything from the pace at which designers are expected to innovate, to the pace at which consumers are expected to buy, to how stores purchase and represent brands. “We have to take our time, so we can start the process with the collection’s ideas on the runway,” he told me last Thursday, “but let that not be the last place you see it.”
He presented the first fruits from this vision last Thursday night, debuting a short film and a new installment of his Reebok collection in a pop-up space in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. In interviews—including this one—Jean-Raymond usually takes a moment to emphasize that he doesn’t really consider Pyer Moss a fashion brand. Instead, he thinks of it more as a platform through which to instigate change: 20% of the proceeds from his most popular piece, a T-shirt that reads “Stop calling 911 on the culture,” go to the Innocence Project, and in contrast to the anodyne voice brands usually take on social media, he often responds directly to critics and haters on Twitter, reminding followers that the brand is not a streetwear label.
He is locaquatious and direct about wrongs and inefficiencies in the fashion system, which makes talking to him—and following the brand—all the more exciting. “We’re probably never gonna do the ‘two show a year’ thing,” he said in a conversation with Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi before the debut of his short film. “No matter what the industry says, it’s not gonna happen. What I want to do, what I’m hoping, is to have a breath of air.”
Within that space, he hopes to create projects that expand the possibilities of how a fashion brand can and should operate, such as the aforementioned short film. Seven Mothers, directed by Director X (the legend behind Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Sisqo’s “Thong Song,” and Destiny’s Child “Bootylicious,” among many, many others), tells the story of the women who helped raise Jean-Raymond after his mother died when he was only seven. Everyone in the film is wearing Pyer Moss. “I just wanted thirty seconds for Instagram!” he joked, but X convinced him to make a narrative short film.
Admittedly, the idea of making a fashion film about the effect of a mother’s death on her small child sounds like Jean-Raymond is out of his mind, but that’s a Pyer Moss signature: combine the serious issues he cares about with the less serious business of selling clothes, no matter the risk. The Black Lives Matter collection, for example, cost the designer $63,000 to produce, and lost him more than $120,000 in business, though now the world is much better primed for Jean-Raymond’s ethos. “I told everyone on set, ‘We’re not selling clothes. I don’t care about the clothes,’” he told me. “And Eric [McNeal, who styles the brand], he kind of massaged it in. It’s like you’re seeing the style but it’s not overdone.” The clothes are shown off just enough; in fact, the way they billow in slow motion is pretty emotional.