"Hi fashion friends: I hope y'all take a moment to appreciate the gravity of tonight's @pyermoss presentation," tweeted Kimberly Drew on the morning of Pyer Moss's anticipated Spring 2019 runway show. "A black-owned house showing new work at @Weeksville, one of the first free black communities during the 19th century. Iconic."
Indeed, a rainy Saturday evening didn't stop the fashion crowd from arriving in droves to Weeksville in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, founded by African-American James Weeks in 1838 — 11 years after slavery was abolished in New York. Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond welcomed showgoers to the historic village's heritage center and museum, not too far from his childhood home in East Flatbush. A full gospel choir assembled in front of Weeksville's four originally restored homes, and as they sang Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away," the audience's attention was quickly diverted from the wet benches and scattered umbrellas to Pyer Moss's latest collection, "American, Also. Lesson 2."
This year, Jean-Raymond celebrates a few milestones, including his label's fifth anniversary — and about the one-year point since the designer took on full ownership of and a new creative approach to the brand. The momentous occasion shined through in his Spring 2019 offerings as he leaned into more evening-ready garments, like floor-sweeping silk gowns, pleated handkerchief-hem skirts and high-neck, bell-sleeve silhouettes.
Jean-Raymond's designs are always rooted in activism, as well, aiming to thread — and also, rewrite — the African-American experience into his collections. "See us now?" is stitched across a male model's cummerbund and "Stop calling 911 on the culture" is embroidered on the front of a blouse paired with a blood-red quilted skirt, noting the recent racist atrocities of white individuals who have called the police on Black people simply going about their normal, everyday lives.
Last season looked to the oft-ignored history of the Black cowboy, but this time, Jean-Raymond took influence from The Negro Motorist Green Book, which published yearly from 1936 to 1966 and offered guidance for Black travelers during a time when racially segregated laws were still enforced. The inspiration led Jean-Raymond to artist Derrick Adams, who created an immersive installation at the Museum of Arts and Design based on the same guidebook. The New York-based artist debuted 10 new works exclusively for Pyer Moss, which resembled Black portraits and candid images of leisurely activities: A graphic T-shirt of a man and young boy grilling; a camp shirt and matching trousers with a family portrait motif; a flower girl and ring bearer on an oversized shirtdress; and the collection's final look, a gown featuring a father and child comprised entirely of Swarovski crystals.
Following up to Jean-Raymond's fall collaboration with Cross Colours, the designer revealed new apparel for Fubu — the "For Us By Us" clothing line launched by Daymond John in 1992 — including a cropped yellow vest and a black gown with a logo emblem. In a time where streetwear has infiltrated the luxury space and '90s-era clothing continues to take over mainstream retailers, it's a nod to one of the brands that cultivated the once-niche trend that should not be ignored.
"Part of what I want to do is highlight American designers who have not been considered designers because they are urban," said Jean-Raymond to The Hollywood Reporter. "Fubu was doing $200 million a year, similar to Donna Karan."
The choir's performance of Fast Life Yungstaz's "Swag Surfin'" — a 2009 debut single and cherished tradition within the HBCU community — was Pyer Moss's cue to present the second collection of Jean-Raymond's two-year partnership with Reebok, which revealed new sneaker styles, sporty knits and printed ponchos that could've been put to good use at that very drizzly moment.
Shortly after the show, guests were directed towards another area within Weeksville, where the designer set up a cookout (one of the social staples of Black culture) complete with Caribbean food — jerk chicken wings, cod fish cakes, beef patties, plantains — and Hennessy cocktails. Coco and Breezy supplied the afterparty's soundtrack as Jean-Raymond greeted and took photos with friends and loved ones nearby. The back of his hoodie read the phrase, "Weeksville, NY. We brought you back home." Thank you, Kerby, for the very warm welcome.
See the full Pyer Moss Spring 2019 collection in the gallery below.