When you grow up feeling marginalized, there's a moment of self-awareness that makes you acutely appreciative of pioneers and modern day heroes who happen to look like you. For centuries, a predominantly white story has shaped just about every facet of American pop culture and most history curriculums taught in public schools. It's easy for significant stories about people of color to get swept under the rug, which is why it feels more significant when we rediscover them for our own.
Kerby Jean-Raymond grew up a few blocks away from Weeksville, a Brooklyn neighborhood founded by African-American freedman in the 1800s. It's named after Virginian James Weeks, who bought the plot of land from African-American land investor Henry C. Thompson. In the years that followed, he turned it into a bustling community of over 500 residents. When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, the thriving neighborhood slowly became absorbed into Crown Heights around it, and became a slow casualty of New York's expansion into a sprawling metropolis.
In choosing Weeksville as the setting for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, “American Also, Lesson Two,” Jean-Raymond isn't just reminding us of history, he's reminding us that black people haven't just thrived, but flourished for decades—and it's a reality that the majority of people just haven't chosen to pay attention to. He pokes fun with the notion of visibility with graphics that say “See Us Now?” on his clothing. A choir sang several songs taking the audience through decades of black music, from James Ruffin's 1966 hit “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” and eventually segueing into the Fast Life Yungstaz' “Swag Surfin’.”
Much of the graphics were done in collaboration with artist Derrick Adams, turning his colorful portraits into all-over prints depicting the beauty in mundane black life. Although Jean-Raymond is known for using his platform to protest racial injustice and bring awareness to issues still plaguing the black community, he subversively swerves for this collection, wanting to shine a light on the quiet power in elevating the everyday black experience.
Here, it's not about everything that's still wrong—it's standing in solidarity with everything that's all right, an inward look at how far the culture has come. It's a universal late-pass issuance to those who are just starting to come around to the labels, figures, and artists that have inspired generations of black creatives. There are even cheeky graphic T-shirts with the phrase “If You Are Just Learning About Pyer Moss, We Forgive You” emblazoned on the back.
Jean-Raymond's homage to his predecessors also manifested in a collaboration with FUBU, the label co-founded by current Shark Tank investor Daymond John. He also debuted his latest capsule collection for Reebok, including several new sneakers and colorful new sportswear. The accessories include timely side bags that will undoubtedly end up on the backs of street style mavens next season. We see you, Pyer Moss.
For more New York Fashion Week coverage, check out what went down at Ralph Lauren's 50th anniversary show.