The show must go on, or so the saying goes. With his reputation for staging seemingly impossible to pull off fashion extravaganzas, Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss practically lives by this mantra.
Still, mother nature had other plans on Thursday afternoon when the brand’s first couture presentation was slated to take place at the CJ Walker estate in Irvington, New York. The forecast predicted rain, but few could have anticipated the torrential downpour, the gale force winds, the thunder and lightning that battered the east coast intermittently for a period of almost 36-hours; just the kind of perfect storm you don’t want.
“It was definitely emotional, I was definitely flustered. Mostly I felt so bad for all the people who had flown in especially to be here,” said Jean-Raymond who was forced to cancel the show that day. “But I guess that’s how the universe works.”
As the first Black designer to present on the couture calendar in the Chambre Syndicale’s 150 year plus history, Jean-Raymond was poised for a monumental moment.
And it’s a testament to the support of his community that the majority of the audience waited patiently for almost three hours in the pouring rain before it was announced the event would be rescheduled. As one show-goer in the crowd remarked, “It’s like we’re on the Titanic and it’s die-hard fans only!”
Many of them returned to the estate yesterday to find the clouds had parted for taking two. Jean-Raymond also decided to open up the event to Pyer Moss fans; within an hour of the call-out on Instagram, over 9,000 people had signed up for one of the 100 available tickets. And so with a packed house and standing room only, the show would finally go on.
As Jean-Raymond tells it, the concept itself was crystallized in an ayahuasca-induced reverie. “We did the ceremony as a team out in Joshua Tree back in March,” he explained.
“And that same morning we’d had a call with Kering when the discussion about applying to be on the haute couture schedule came up.” Little over a month later, with his application in, Jean-Raymond set about working on the collection, a tribute to 25 Black inventions drawn from an extensive list at the Library of Congress.
To bring the ambitious concept to life, he set up camp temporarily in a spacious studio in Westlake, Los Angeles, enlisting the help of Hollywood fabricators and costume designers. “I didn’t want to do this like a regular collection, I wanted to do this like Sesame Street and Pixar,” he said.
Made from hundreds of tightly wrapped hair rollers, the first look was a fitting tribute to the original lady of the manor, beauty mogul CJ Walker, who is famous for being America’s first female self-made millionaire.
Mostly though, the inventions that Jean-Raymond chose to celebrate spoke to his lived experiences: a fire escape, the only outdoor space he knew growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn; the cellphone he remembers his father carrying in the 1990s; childhood treats like a sprinkle-covered ice cream cone.
Some of the larger-than-life, tongue-in-cheek flourishes called to mind an aesthetic first proposed by fashion renegades like Jeremy Scott and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac before him. Ultimately though it was the more subtle looks in the lineup that held the most sway, including the typewriter look that was fastened with a belt of typewriter keys and paperwork at the waist and a ruched lilac dress topped with a towering lampshade-inspired hat.
Jean-Raymond invited Elaine Brown, the only woman to have led the Black Panther Party and one of his personal heroes, to speak at the show and her sermon on Black empowerment spoke to the brand’s higher purpose.
“I’ve always told people not to call me an activist until I’m at that level, where I’m doing as much as Elaine has done,” said Jean-Raymond.
“I loved what the black panthers stood for and what they created and I think there can be a new version of that if we can be organized and Pyer Moss is that.
We’re a platform. That’s what we do well, not just the clothes but the message, the story, and the whole community around it.”
With the collection set to be installed as an exhibit at the Walker estate this fall in partnership with gallerist Nicola Vassell, Jean-Raymond will bring that powerful message to an even bigger audience.