NEW YORK — Kerby Jean-Raymond bristles when it’s suggested that he’s a streetwear designer.
But there’s no denying the founder of Pyer Moss is popular with the trendsetting Millennials who define the movement. His first sneaker for Reebok, which dropped earlier this month, sold out within minutes and is being offered on resale sites for more than $500.
Now Jean-Raymond has designed a capsule collection for cognac brand Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit “Never stop. Never settle.” project.
The designer was commissioned to create a line inspired by Marshall “Major” Taylor, an African-American track cyclist who won the sprint event at the 1899 ICA Track Cycling World Championships in Montreal and went on to compile a storied career in the sport. However, Taylor, who died in 1932 and was once esteemed as the fastest man on two wheels, is largely unknown today.
But with the help of Hennessy, ESPN and Jean-Raymond, that’s about to change.
On Thursday night, the brands will unveil the MMT 140 x Pyer Moss for Hennessy Capsule Collection, a mash-up of vintage cycling gear and streetwear staples, as part of an event that will celebrate the athlete. The program will include an ESPN-produced documentary, a voiceover performed by Nas, and a monument called The Major, created by artist and cycling enthusiast Kadir Nelson. Following the event, the bronze monument will be on display at Pratt Institute in New York for one month before eventually finding a permanent location in a site yet to be determined.
The campaign will go live to the public on April 14 during the NBA Finals and will air on television, social media and digital video channels and in theaters. The documentary will air on ESPN on April 22.
This marks the fifth iteration of the Wild Rabbit campaign, which the spirits brand has used to shine a spotlight on extraordinary individuals who help push potential through their actions and accomplishments. Others featured have included father and son explorers Auguste and Jacques Piccard and race car driver Malcolm Campbell. But this marks the first time the promotion has included an apparel component.
“The more we learned about Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor’s remarkable journey, the more we wanted to share his legacy to inspire others who are also striving to push past the limits of potential,” said Giles Woodyer, senior vice president of Hennessy. “Our collaboration with visionary designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, to curate a Taylor-inspired collection that gives a nod to the cycling champion’s inner rivalry, acknowledges this important cultural moment and celebrates a true pioneer.”
In a preview with WWD at his studio here, Jean-Raymond said Hennessy approached him and asked him to be a part of the project and he agreed once they hammered out a “charity component.” Part of the proceeds of the collection will be donated to the National Brotherhood of Cyclists, a nonprofit group founded in 2008 by a group of African-American cycling clubs around the country that strives to increase diversity in the sport.
The limited-edition capsule will encompass five pieces: a cropped nylon box bomber jacket without ribbing on the bottom that blends the look of vintage cycling uniforms worn by Taylor with a modern silhouette ($500); a track-style mock neck sweatshirt that is slightly oversize and cropped and features graphics that speak to Taylor’s uniforms ($250); a striped parachute jogger with a billowy silhouette, contrast Gee’s Bend quilting details and a tight cuff ($300); a boxy mock-neck graphic T-shirt with an image of Taylor on his bike ($150), and a cycling cap that features stripes to reference Taylor’s vintage cycling uniforms.
Jean-Raymond said that when designing the collection he “evoked the internal drive that pushed him [Taylor] to greatness, inspired by this idea that we’re each our own toughest rival and competing with yourself is the key to sustained success. Throughout his career, Taylor challenged the racial prejudice encountered on and off the Velodrome, becoming a pioneering role model for athletes facing similar discrimination.”
Many of the silhouettes and references are reminiscent of Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss collection, including the graphic Ts. In the past he has featured “folkloric black figures” in his line and one season, he also used his father as inspiration. “And my first collection for Pyer Moss was based on motocross,” he said.
The capsule is more lifestyle than performance and will be sold on the Pyer Moss e-commerce site beginning in June.
Raymond said that although he had heard of Taylor, he didn’t truly appreciate the rider’s accomplishments until he began working on this project, which also speaks to two of the designer’s passions: his ongoing mission to promote African-American culture and history and his love for riding on two wheels. Although Jean-Raymond’s background was in motorcycle riding rather than track or road cycling, he admits to a true love of the sport. A serious accident on the bike has put a hard stop to his riding, but he’s hoping to one day get back to it.
In the meantime, he’s focusing his full attention on his fashion career.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology who has been designing since he was a teen, Jean-Raymond launched the Pyer Moss men’s label in 2013 and broke through with his 2016 collection that he showed during New York Fashion Week. The show highlighted police brutality and referenced the Black Lives Matter movement. He was awarded the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award in men’s wear in 2014 and was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2015. He was also nominated for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski award earlier this year.
He recently bought out a former partner to obtain 100 percent ownership of the label.
Last year, he was tapped by Reebok to produce a limited-edition, higher-end capsule collection that he presented at the brand’s first runway show during New York Fashion Week in February. The apparel will hit stores this summer but the company released a sneaker early.
The DMX Fusion Experiment, a reworked version of Reebok’s DMX Run 10 sneaker from the Nineties with a chunky sole and interlocking laces, was offered for sale on the Reebok site on March 23. “It sold out in two minutes,” Jean-Raymond said, “and was the fastest-selling sneaker in Reebok’s history.”
He said the next iteration, the DMX Daytona Experiment, is set to drop on Sept. 1.
Jean-Raymond acknowledged that the Reebok collaboration is a “big deal,” and he’s thankful that the company has given him “complete creative control” over the collection. He said that after being his own boss for so long, it’s been a bit of a “learning process,” but he’s eager to expand his role at the sports brand. “I look forward to the day when I can sign other designers and cool brands for Reebok,” he said.
The company, which is seeking to up its cool factor to compete with its parent Adidas as well as rival Nike, recently partnered with Victoria Beckham, Cottweiler and Huntsman & Sons under the umbrella of its Innovation Collective, an initiative that works to develop footwear and apparel that pushes the limits of fashion and technology.
Beyond his partnership with Reebok, Jean-Raymond is still plugging away on his Pyer Moss line, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in September. Although he started his career designing women’s wear at Kay Unger and Marchesa, it’s with men’s wear that he’s made his mark.
Although the Pyer Moss collection is sold at stores and web sites ranging from Ssense and 10 Corso Como to Harvey Nichols, Printemps and H. Lorenzo, Jean-Raymond is in the midst of a reinvention.
“Now in year four, I’ve learned to completely buck the wholesale model,” he said. “I now think of it as marketing rather than for sales. Retailers are not loyal to designers and they’ll put you out of business. So I’m looking at using them to drive sales to us. That’s where the business is headed.”
He will shortly launch e-commerce site on his web site where he’ll sell not only the Hennessy collection, but his own Pyer Moss line as well.
“I went to business school and law school so I’ve been blessed with a right- and left-side brain,” he said. “I’ll be treating our web site like a brick-and-mortar store where people line up to buy what you have like they do at Supreme.” So instead of merchandise being available 24/7, “I’ll put it up and take it down,” he said, to create buzz and drive sales.
“We crashed SSense’s web site with the [Reebok] sneakers,” he said. “And we want that kind of energy on our site.”
Jean-Raymond is also hoping to open a store. He’s in the process of exiting his current studio, which is located across from FIT, and is searching for a site that can double as both a fashion studio and a retail store.
He said the store, like the web site, doesn’t have to be open seven days a week either. And although he’s looking in New York, he may wind up relocating to Los Angeles.
“People there can shop all year-round and there are more opportunities there to expand into denim and other American-made goods,” he said.
Jean-Raymond said that although he used every cent he had to start Pyer Moss in 2013 and he’s now finally making some money, he continues to invest every cent back into the business. “The only thing I have is my phone,” he said.
Although he has clearly benefited from the streetwear craze, he said he “despises” that phrase. “It’s so one-dimensional,” and borderline racist, he believes. “If you’re a designer and you’re black and you’re producing contemporary sportswear, you’re immediately labeled as a streetwear designer.
“My collection has a lot of elements of hip-hop and traditional clothing,” he added, but he prefers to think of it as “luxury active sportswear,” a category that he believes continues to have a lot of potential. “There’s a lot of room for growth,” he said, “and I don’t see it slowing anytime soon.”