Pyer Moss designer denounces police killings during New York Fashion Week

Gunfire is not the typical soundtrack to a New York fashion show and
graphic footage of racially charged police killings are not the typical
pre-catwalk introduction. But designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, the 28-year-old
award-winning founder of label Pyer Moss, made the starkest of political
statements in debuting his womenswear collection on day one of New York
fashion week.

“I don’t want to say everybody’s racist because that’s not the case for me but
this eruption that you’ve been seeing in the past two years needs to stop, it
can’t be an everyday thing,” he told AFP backstage. A wave of police
killings of unarmed black men has become a defining issue
in contemporary America, sparking a wave of protests and giving birth to a
generation of rights activists.

The fashion pack is not renowned for its social conscience, but Jean-Raymond
— who dislikes being pigeonholed as a black designer — says if the media
choose to focus on his race, then he wants it on his own terms. So he
opened his 2016 spring/summer womenswear collection with a shockingly graphic
10-minute video of white police shooting black men and interviews he
conducted with their grieving loved ones.

Included was footage of Eric Garner, a New York father of six who died in 2014
after being held in an illegal police chokehold, repeatedly crying “I can’t
breathe” as officers pinned him to the ground. When the black and white
video ended, out strode the models — the most racially diverse group seen
on a single runway at New York fashion week.

‘That was scary man’

His capsule collection paired sports-inspired leggings with basketball shorts
and sharply-tailored blazers, plus white leather biker jackets. There were
red collars, a tribute the designer said to the red and black ribbons worn
in the United States in solidarity with murder victims, as the techno
soundtrack boomed, laced with the sound of gunshots.

“That was scary man,” the Haitian-American designer told AFP and a small group
of reporters backstage after the show. “You hear those gunshots and you
hear like those screams and everything like that, and you don’t get used to
it.” The scholarship boy from Brooklyn, who said he was stopped and frisked
by police 12 times before he was 18, hopes the video will help spur people
to action — even just to be a little bit kinder.

“I just hope that people will leave from it more aware, a little bit
more open,”
he said. The designer, who used to work for luxury evening wear label
Marchesa, said the brutality of the video, in which victims are shot, lie
bleeding, are kicked in the ribs and even hauled out of a car — was

“It’s not easy to watch,” he said. “I think what’s happening in
America is people
are becoming desensitized to seeing those acts of violence.” Jean-Raymond
is a man on the rise having launched Pyer Moss, named after his mother,
only two years ago. He already won a coveted award for menswear in 2014.

Reinvented athletic gear

He reinvents classic athletic gear and uniforms but says his
womenswear was drawn
and conceptualized before he thought about presenting it. He says he
suffers from “survivor’s guilt” and the realization that his own life could
have taken a tragic turn for the worse. “I was able to do something better
for myself,” he said. “You’ve got all these kids who are still coming up in
that environment who are not going to get a fair chance because nobody who
left is saying anything
about it.”

But neither does he paint all police with a bad brush. “There are a lot of
good cops,” he said. He believes the problem is police not knowing
communities and negative narratives of black people on TV. “That dictates
their fear, so can you blame them?” He lashes out at what he calls stupid
articles and hateful headlines that are “racially driven to get more
twitter clicks.”

“If I’m going to be the black designer, I’m going to tell it my way.”
(Jeannie Matthew, AFP)

Image: AFP Photo/Bryan R. Smith

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