Prior to winning the 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, Kerby Jean-Raymond, the designer behind Pyer Moss, racked up press that concentrated on his activism, identity and being raised by a Haitian father who immigrated to New York in 1980. Jean-Raymond understood early how to mine his culture for compelling stories that translated to his product — in 2015 he sold a T-shirt that listed the names of 13 unarmed men of color killed by police officers — and his fashion shows — during his fall 2018 show he enlisted a gospel choir to sing black empowerment anthems such as Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” But glowing press aside, many of these statements cost him retail relationships.
But he persisted, bought back his company and his ideas gelled together in way they hadn’t before during his spring 2019 show, which was held in Weeksville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was one of the country’s first free black communities. The show itself, which was also backed by a gospel choir, was emotional for many, but the clothes, which have gotten better with each season, were also moving. He worked with artist Derrick Adams to portray ordinary black life on beautiful garments and previewed his collaborations with FUBU and Reebok. Suddenly, the provocations that used to scare away retailers became selling points.
For Jean-Raymond, the product is clearly important, but it’s also a vehicle to tell bigger stories, as seen in his fall 2018 campaign titled “American, Also” that features community activists, organizers and black cowboys. With these types of fully realized projects, Jean-Raymond has established himself as not just a designer, but an emerging cultural force.