Thursday night, two days before the Fall 2018 showing of his label Pyer Moss, Creative Director Kerby Jean-Raymond was calm, confident even. As a fitting took place around him, a model putting on a full-length yellow evening gown, he went over a last-minute change to a Reebok sneaker with a team member, a representative from the athletic company not far away. It was a marked difference in feeling from the lead-in to previous Pyer Moss shows, and for good reason: After weeks of teaser imagery featuring shredded paperwork, burning clothes and a new logo, Pyer Moss is back. And Raymond is firmly in control.
That sounds dramatic, no doubt, but it's accurate. Fall 2018 saw Pyer Moss's return to the runway. The brand skipped out on showing in September, in favor of participating in the Museum of Modern Art's Items: Is Fashion Modern exhibition, creating a custom, Pierre Cardin-inspired look that served as a prototype for what we might be forced to one day wear on account of rising sea levels. But around the same time Raymond was working behind the scenes, finalizing deals that would not only see him buy out all of his partners so that he would wholly own Pyer Moss, but also one with Reebok that locked him in a two year contract that Raymond calls "the first of its kind" for the athletic company.
"Let's be clear, with the last Pyer Moss, I didn't own shit in the paperwork," Raymond told Fashionista of the transition. "It was just my name on the door and literally me doing all the work, but there was no upside for me or any reason to keep doing what I was doing. Now I'm doing exactly what I want to do which is establishing Pyer Moss as more of culture than a clothing brand." After videos posted to social media featuring musicians Kari Faux and Vic Mensa burning old pieces, shredding lawsuits and contracts and cleansing his design studio with sage, as well as another video clarifying how to pronounce the brand's name, the new iteration of the company is here. "I'm just on some Black shit."
This re-introduction saw Raymond turn out his strongest collection of clothes to date. Since his much discussed Spring 2016 collection, the New York-based designer has used fashion as a springboard to talk about larger, social justice issues. Many designers have followed in his wake, whether out of sincerity or because they saw it as a strategy. The result? Many conversations about the label shirked the actual clothing in favor of the larger message. And though those conversations were certainly important, to see a collection wherein the clothing demands the same level of discussion was a definite win for Raymond.
Titled "American Also," the Fall 2018 collection mined the origins of the term "cowboy." Originally used in a derogatory way towards Black laborers, the term has been flipped and essentially whitewashed. In fact, the community of Black cowboys — which still exists today — codified in the Federation of Black Cowboys has been largely ignored. Here, Raymond, like the Studio Museum in 2017, brings attention to them.
In practicality that meant a Pyer Moss mainline collection featuring long, clean outerwear silhouettes, and wide legged trousers. Contrast stitching finds itself as a consistent motif for the range which saw the womenswear (as opposed to menswear styled on women) debut for the label. That womenswear incorporates techniques from Gee's Bend quilting, or a style of quilting passed down over six generations, originally from enslaved Black women. Gee's Bend quilting also inspired the dress Michelle Obama wears by Milly in her recently unveiled official portrait. Women's eveningwear from the collection seemed to be itching for red carpet moments, too.
It's a marked difference from a brand that's been associated with athleisure in the past, but it's more an evolution than a change. Before ever releasing a full collection, the brand made a splash with a leather motorcycle jacket courtesy of Rihanna. That history makes an appearance in runway looks, as well as in new leather jacket options — like a pair of standout patchwork cropped jackets, which represent a refined approach. The first sets of Pyer Moss shoes (as opposed to sneakers) which made their debut on the runway come with extended soles which seem like a maturation of designs that Raymond DIY-ed for Spring 2017 with Versace's current head of sneakers Salehe Bembury, dipping sneakers and boots in silicone to extend the soles. Raymond's own history of working with names like Kay Unger and Marchesa is roped into the line's elegance.
"Pyer Moss mainline can no longer be classified as 'street' even if you try," Raymond said, reiterating a frustration he had felt before. He admitted that in past collections he had been pressured by partners to follow market trends as propagated by companies like Fear of God, Off-White and more. "If you try [to say it's street] you're just racist. Reebok is where that market void is for like street, sportswear and athleisure. That's what [our Reebok collection] is, but it's also elevated."
In addition to sneaker styles, including a rendition of the DMX Run 10, the Reebok collection features everything from tracksuits and sweatsuits to large travel bags stitched with renditions of the African American flag, as well as full-length fur coats with the Reebok logo on the back. A selection of oversized blanket scarves also came done with flag renditions, and even a style of socks made it into the range. These designs helped contribute to what Raymond reports as the brand's largest market season in Paris to date.
The showing is a part of a larger conversation that Raymond wants to have about what it means to be American. "The 'American Also' thing came about because me and my boys had just finished playing basketball, and this typical Long Island guy was walking by and wearing a full-on American flag outfit," the designer explained. "And it was like ... that kind of hurt. It was weird, so we were asking why that is, where does that [hurt] come from? We were born here. There's something perverse about feeling like an immigrant even though you were born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. So 'American Also' is to rewrite that narrative of what it means to be an American."
That idea, which brings to mind the Toni Morrison quote "In this country white is default. Everybody else has to hyphenate," comes simply in some pieces like the hats emblazoned with the words "AS AMERICAN AS U." But it's also in the re-worked flags in which Raymond riffs off David Hammons's African American Flag design.
An important part of any Pyer Moss show remains the actual presentation. Raymond has long had a relation to music and musicians: The aforementioned Rihanna, Vic Mensa and Kari Faux connections, his work with Usher, a collaboration and relationship with Erykah Badu, the list goes on. This season that connection was played out through a partnership with singer-song writer Raphael Saadiq, who wrote and curated the music. Together they assembled an all-Black choir to sing live renditions of everything from Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and Gil Scott-Heron's "Home is Where the Hatred Is" to Kendrick Lamar's "We Gon' Be Alright." When lyrics like "Too many n*ggas on Rikers Island" from Saadiq's own upcoming album and "every n*gga is a star," from a song of the same name, originally released in 1973 by Boris Gardiner but re-upped recently in the Moonlight soundtrack and Kendrick Lamar's album, it was clear that Raymond had lost the need for filtering. The soundscape at large imbued the show with a sense of soul and what Raymond aimed to be hope.
"I've never really used fashion in a traditional sense," Raymond said, mentioning that the flag concept might be turned into a larger series in collaboration with an artist, creating flags for a variety of groups of Americans that find themselves othered. "I've used it as an art form and that started with the SS16 collection, which was known as the 'Black Lives Matter' collection." As such, that collection, which was never available to purchase, has been archived by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"We want to establish the brand as a canvas as opposed to a clothing company," Raymond continued. "This is an art project and a social experiment. There's no rhyme or reason to it, there's no plan. There's no sort of 'we want to make a certain amount of money' because thankfully, now, I'm kinda hella paid. So I'm just doing what I want."
And if this is what that looks like, hopefully he maintains the freedom to do exactly that.