In a time when Black thoughts, voices, and images are constantly being silenced, Kerby-Jean Raymond, the 28-year-old designer behind the menswear label Pyer Moss, has made an impactful statement by using his NYFW womenswear debut to make a powerful commentary on police brutality in the U.S.
Raymond opened up the show by presenting a video clip of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold, and followed it up with an interview of his daughter, Emerald Garner, who spoke on her experiences of the whole ordeal and how it has affected her life since.
Raymond’s bold S/S 2016 collection wasn’t the first time he has used fashion for a purpose. He is also the mastermind designer behind the popular “They Have Names” t-shirt. He designed them in hopes of shedding some light on the plight that he, like so many other people of color, have faced.
He told Complex back in January, “Fashion’s reach is far and wide, whether someone is actively or passively participating. Fortunately for us, we have the opportunity to impact change due to our position in this industry and I feel strongly about using our influence to heighten awareness for this cause.”
During the presentation, Raymond also showcased a mini-documentary shedding light on police brutality and racism. The project was done in conjunction with celebrities and social activists such as Kendrick Lamar, Usher Raymond, Nadia Lopez, Emerald Garner, Kay Unger, George Lange, and more.
One particularly emotional moment in the mini-doc was footage from the June 2015 McKinney Pool Party Incident in Texas, where a police officer infamously tackled a 15-year-old Black girl in her bikini. This clip seemed to have a very profound effect on those around me, as I could see tears rolling down some faces.
But the emotional roller coaster didn’t end there. Yet another powerful moment in the show was when artist Gregory Siff came out with spray paint cans and markers in the middle of the space as the models made their way out on the runway.
Moving seamlessly in and out of the models, Siff tagged their clothes on the spot, giving us more than just your everyday runway show, but real-time activism. He chose to paint phrases like “Breathe Breathe Breathe” — likely in reference to Eric Garner’s final statement “I can’t breathe” — on the backs of some models. While other models walked the runway wearing white Dr.Marten boots with the names of Black women killed by police, Siff splattered their boots with red paint to make it look like blood.
The Spring/Summer collection featured 24 different looks. It is sleek and edgy as it maintains a very neutral palette of black, green, white, cream, and grey, with a few bright colors added in for an element of surprise. The layering of netted material, leather bombers, and tattered soccer pants gives the line a very sporty and chic look, along with asymmetrical cuts and color blocking for a clean aesthetic.
Raymond told HelloBeautiful that he took an idea from one of the models to highlight the structural power dynamics between police and the Black community. When asked if there was some sort of particular treatment of the models taking place and whether it was in response to anything, he told said, it “was forceful and on purpose. It was one of the models idea and we ran with it…to feel like the video.”
This show gave Raymond the opportunity to change the narrative on the Black community. His show challenged fashion norms and etiquette and did so perfectly.