Pyer Moss Served Black Culture and Black Excellence at NYFW
By BLANC Modern Africa
ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images.
The Spring/Summer 2019 Pyer Moss show delivered an unapologetic lesson in African American history and culture. First lesson: Location. Weeksville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, was the setting of the New York Fashion week presentation. Founded by James Weeks in 1838, only eleven years after slavery was abolished in the state, Weeksville was one of the earliest communities of freed blacks in the United States. Fittingly, the label’s creative director, Kerby Jean-Raymond grew up only a few blocks away.
Second lesson: Literature. The presentation continued the brand’s legacy of activism-cum-fashion, with this season’s inspiration from The Negro Motorist Green Book. Initially published in the 1930s the book was a guide for black travelers in America’s Jim Crow era. The manual led Jean-Raymond to ponder what the African American experience would look like without the threat of racism. In a time when ordinary activities like barbecuing or selling water on a sidewalk prompt the summoning of police, his musing rings especially relevant. ( Jean-Raymond experienced his own encounter with the police while in state of being: An evening that started as Jean-Raymond taking an stroll in his neighborhood led to him staring “down the barrels of three Glock 19 handguns aimed at him by a trio of blue-clad New York City police officers”, as detailed from an interview with Vice).
For this season’s show Jean-Raymond partnered with Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams whose similar reflections on the black experience in America are executed on canvas. In Culture Club,a solo exhibition from 2016, Adams explored the place of the black figure in the context of leisure. Adams’ summer-themed works showed black bodies enjoying the ubiquitous summertime pleasure of lounging in a swimming pool. Other paintings were abstract renderings of picnic tables with patchwork tables - the setup of another summertime staple, the barbecue. With Pyer Moss, Adams’s imagery of black people enjoying the splendor of a mundane existence resulted in a 10-piece collection whose memorable capsule garment was a decadent Swarovski-embellished tunic embroidered with the image of a father cradling his baby.
Third lesson: Legacy. Like the roots of African American cultural history, Jean-Raymond’s fusion of fashion and activism runs deep. For the label’s Fall 2015 show Jean-Raymond played a 15-minute video about police brutality and the black community. Reportedly, he received death threats from the KKK as a result. A past collaboration featured Cross Colours, a label from the 1990s that had also incorporated advocacy for social and racial equality into its design ethos. (In addition to the collaboration with Adams this season, Pyer Moss also featured pieces made with another trailblazing 90s streetwear label, FUBU - ‘For Us By Us’). The Pyer Moss Spring 2017 Ready to Wear show featured a performance by playwright and activist Cyrus Aaron, whose work exposes incidents of everyday and casual racism in America. For the preceding season, Fall 2016, Jean-Raymond closed the show with a model carrying a poster stating, “My demons won today. I’m sorry,” from the suicide note of Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel.
In a show celebrating color in intrinsic and evident terms, two all white ensembles resonated loudly: A white oversize T-shirt on a woman model read, “STOP CALLING 911 ON THE CULTURE” (in all caps) on the chest. No further explanation necessary. At the start of the show, a 40-person gospel choir dressed in all white ushered in the ceremony, echoing many a Southern Baptist church on an ordinary Sunday morning.