Kerby Jean-Raymond has hardly had a break from the spotlight since his most recent New York Fashion Week event in September. The show itself, where the designer turned "King's Theatre into a hood mansion party," as he describes it, was a multi-faceted production featuring the prominent Black writer Casey Gerald and the "Tabernacle Drip Choir" in addition to a 68-look collection that was met with resounding, seemingly universal praise.
So to face another Black choir, this time at the Business of Fashion's annual gala a few weeks later, was not offensive on its own, but he found it jarring when used as a vehicle to drive a narrative for a company profiting off the ideas and experiences of the Black community, which is what Jean-Raymond accused the publication of doing.
"I feel like I was used...it's kind of like carbon offsets, when an oil company makes an oil spill and the government implores them to plant some trees, that's what this felt like for me. It's like you're going to the young designers who are actually on the ground doing the work or young actors doing the work, picking them apart for information, you're getting everything that you need, and you're dangling a carrot at the end of the stick," Jean-Raymond says during Vogue's Forces of Fashion conference. "You should have just left me in Flatbush and not messed with me in the first place, and then take that and go sell it to bigger companies; that's the point that didn't sit right with me."
Given the nonstop chatter surrounding those two events, especially the latter, Jean-Raymond was eager to discuss anything else at Vogue's conference, where he sat in conversation with actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross. It's this eagerness, perhaps, which opened Jean-Raymond up to share some "secrets" he's kept to himself. For example, the artist's Instagram page is but a cloak shielding his secret "finsta." (He insists the audience will never find it, though I caution the man who underestimates the modern Internet sleuth.) Jean-Raymond, who dabbles in music production, also has a secret Soundcloud where he posts his beats.
His love of cars (the 32-year-old has owned 20 or so, he says) stemmed from an early bond he formed with his father while dad outfitted "drug dealers' cars with stereos." He purchased a 1980s gold Mercedes for $400 from a police auction and used a Metrocard to stop a leak in the gas tank. Having since upgraded from that Mercedes, he's got a secret car collection somewhere in Brooklyn, which includes some of the world's most coveted supercars, including a McLaren 720S he named "Nippy" in the shade "Nipsey Blue," a tribute to the late American rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.
It could have also been Jean-Raymond's instant connection to newfound friend Ellis Ross that lent to his candor. "There is a deliberateness to what you are pulling in through history in your shows and designs, reclaiming and etching us in a narrative of our culture," Ross says of the designer's work.
"We have been designers and artists informing culture, leading culture, defining culture particularly in the frame of our style, but because the system mostly doesn't recognize us, it's often as if we weren't here," she continues. "There's something that happens when you see yourself and your culture represented not as an object but as a subject, and you do that so singularly in your work, and it engenders a strength of identity allowing one to claim, 'I am here, and we are here.'"
Jean-Raymond, sometime later on in the discussion, agrees that Pyer Moss the brand is a communication tool through which he can express his personal and shared experiences, though he says not every collection will focus on the subject of blackness as his trilogy of "American Also" collections have done.
"I don't feel obligated to do anything. I feel like the only thing I'm obligated to do is stay true to my story," Jean-Raymond says. "My story has been about me dealing with the pressure, getting sued by old partners; if you look at my old shows, I talked about movies I liked or whatever the case is. As long as it's true to you, then it doesn’t become appropriation, trying to ride a wave. That's the only thing I can do is speak to what's true to me."