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“I haven’t led anything yet,” says Kerby Jean-Raymond. “Call me a leader when the collective that I’ve been working on is formed, and when Reebok gives me the go-ahead to sign other young talent and actually give them royalties.”
Pyer Moss' latest fashion show, the last in the “American Also” trilogy, isn't an ending. It's a beginning. Jean-Raymond was recently appointed the artistic director of Reebok Studies_, a new branch of the sportswear company that will allow him to continue his experimental efforts with the label while empowering the next generation of designers. But he feels like he hasn't earned the title of “leader” yet, and it's a road he'll pave with work.
Titled “American, Also Lesson 3: Sister,” Pyer Moss' latest show is inspired by queer black woman Sister Rosetta Tharpe, largely credited with creating rock-and-roll, whose influence stretched to seminal artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Johnny Cash. Jean-Raymond began with the idea of Tharpe as a church woman, and thinking what would happen if rock-and-roll style had continued to evolve in a largely black community instead of being adopted into a mainstream, predominantly white audience.
Set to a backdrop of a choir singing hits by Adina Howard, Frank Ocean, Missy Elliott, Donny Hathaway, Jimmy Ruffin, and Cardi B, the show once again celebrated black excellence throughout the ages. Building on his themes of “See Us Now” and reinforcing a spirit of visibility, Jean-Raymond uses the occasion to stand firm on his message of reverse erasure, embroidering “You See” on a bright pink cummerbund.
It imagines the glam of the '70s and DIY-attitude of the '80s through a perspective of rock-and-roll with touches of soul, hip-hop, and disco. There are plenty of cowboy boots, leather, and even a collaboration with Sean John. Many of the prints feature the work of Richard Phillips, a recently exonerated artist who spent 47 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
“I just couldn’t imagine under any circumstances, 47 years of my life being taken away,” says Jean-Raymond backstage. “What is it like to be erased on that level?”
In many ways, this show represents a homecoming for Jean-Raymond as well. He's from Flatbush, where the Kings Theater venue is located, and for three years, he worked at the sneaker shop Ragamuffin down the street.
“Now I’m showing here, and I hear there was a line around the block. So that’s some cool shit,” he says.
But the Sean John connection actually goes much deeper. Jean-Raymond was a recipient of a Black Retail Action Group scholarship sponsored by Puff Daddy and Sean John president Jeffrey Tweedy. And back in 2004, he witnessed Puff Daddy become the first black man to win a CFDA Award. Seeing Puff Daddy win that award made him realize he too could be on that stage. He remembers his first thought: “Oh shit, I could do that. But first I have to rap.”
Of course, Jean-Raymond didn't have to start a music label to win the top prize at last year's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, but it's more a testament to how times have changed, and yet, some things are still the same.
“What him and Jefferey Tweedy created was so prolific at the time, and them being on runways and everything like that was my first inclination that I could do it too,” says Jean-Raymond. One of the items they brought back was the “VOTE OR DIE” T-shirt from the 2000 elections, now emblazoned with a “BUT FOR REAL THIS TIME” underneath.
“I have the means now to do stupid shit with money, and I choose to be remembered than be revered, I guess,” says Jean-Raymond of the expansive venue and the show, which he admits costs $400,000 to put on. The models were street cast from Instagram, and also included faces like Doja Cat, Lil Keed, Caleb McLaughlin, and Brent Faiyaz, who closed the show.
“I'm 32. I’m figuring out a lot of shit. I’m figuring out how to navigate the world as a poor black man, and now as a rich black man,” says Jean-Raymond. “As I’m figuring it out, I’m putting it in my work and being transparent about it because I hope that somebody who feels like me—not just looks like me—back then, can also feel like me now.”
Jean-Raymond is already thinking about his next collection. He says the Reebok part of it is done, and also lets slip that he's going to focus on a different conversation now than race. He might even rethink his current status of one show a year.
“I won’t even promise you one [fashion show] a year. I’ll promise you one every time I feel like it.”
HIghsnobiety's New York Fashion Week coverage is brought to you by Pernod Ricard USA , the premium spirits and wine company in the U.S. behind prestigious brands such as Absolut®, Jameson, The Glenlivet, Malibu, Beefeater and many more. Check out https://www.pernod-ricard-usa.com/ to learn more.