A Pyer Moss show is a holistic, theatrical experience—a cultural phenomenon! You come for the clothes, get an in-depth lesson on the erasure of Black figures and culture within American history, hear symphonic renditions of popular hip-hop and rnb songs and stay for the familiar, communal, overall essence of the show. That’s just what the fashion set did on Thursday, waiting it out in the rain to support this iconic feat. The crowd—eager to see the collection from the first Black American designer invited to officially show Haute Couture—waited out the torrential downpour, Telfar bags, Theophilo dresses, Birkin bags (cc: Law Roach) Pyer Moss Sculpt sneakers and all. As gracious host, Kerby and the Pyer Moss team anticipated the needs of guests, supplying umbrellas and ponchos, amazing food—the red beans and rice were bussing—drinks and even handing out a few favors (cannabis) as everyone patiently waited it out. After three false starts and many iconic moments later (like Law Roach securing his Birkin with a poncho), Kerby decided to postpone the show till Saturday. With such a magnetic energy of love and support at the Upstate New York estate, the anticipation for the rescheduled debut was at an all time high.
“It was everything. I loved it. It was certainly worth the wait!” said Dear White People star, Logan Browning. Well, they say the second time’s the charm, right? And Saturday’s Pyer Moss Couture 1—take 2 as we’re referring to it as—show was a massive tour de force. It was a masterful exploration of Black invention, Black expressionism and Black surrealism. This was a completely new lens on haute couture, interjecting Black American culture and history into the couture cannon. From the cookout—a cultural gathering in the African American community—the sounds of Frankie Beverly and Maze, Wizkid and Burna Boy (compliments of DJ Clark Kent) blasting across the lush villa grounds, the incredibly campy interpretations of inventions by Black creators, to the opening monologue by former Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown—this was a complete visceral lens on the shared Black Experience. This was a different type of couture—this was Kerby couture.
Only Kerby Jean-Raymond could pull off such a rich, culturally significant feat like this. Titled “WAT U IZ”, this couture offering continues the brand’s “American Also” through-line—which speaks to reversing the erasure of the contributions of African Americans in the context of American culture. This is something deeply embedded in the Pyer Moss design ethos. From paying homage to Sister Rosetta Thorpe, to showing at the Weeksville Heritage Center—featuring the work of Derrick Adams—this couture show felt like a seamless continuation of the ongoing work laid out seasons prior.
“I thought it was incredibly innovative. So much Blackness! I Love that he brought his neighborhood and his culture with him. It was this innovation of rap and fashion. It was a fusion—a Black fusion, Black excellence” said music legend Raphael Saadiq. That it was indeed. As the fashion set, Pyer Moss fam/team and hoards of supporters of the brand—as Kerby graciously opened up tickets to a select few fans to attend—took to their seats, they were greeted by the sound of strings-directed by Image maker and creative advisor Dario Calmese—which evolved into a percussive melody, then, an explosive performance by Flatbush’s own, rapper 22Gz, alongside dancers that took us from stepping to krumping.
The first look comes out and its a red bodysuit, with a skirt made to resemble a bottle cap—invented by Amos E. Long and Albert A. Jones—and a hat to echo the bottle cap concept. From there, it’s clear that Kerby is preparing to give us something unexpected from him: it’s completely camp. One particular look that I can’t seem to get off my mind, is this pink, ruched dress with an accompanying headpiece in the shape of a lamp shade, with a cascade of crystals streaming down to evoke the essence of light beams—it definitely gave what it was suppose to have gave! That lamp shade from your grandmas house, the roller set, all you got is peanut butter and bread, the air conditioning unit, the white refrigerator (with alphabet magnets), the African American Flag, the hot comb, the wave brush—this collection was a study in the Black cultural experience.
*I would also like to point out that the casting featured a roster of all Black and Afro-Latinx models—including Multi-disciplinary Artist Kennedy Yanko and Aoki Lee Simmons (who made her runway debut.)
Honestly, it’s impossible to critique the clothes alone without acknowledging the cultural nuances of the show itself, the location, ambiance and theatrically. Lets expand more on the themes within the show, references of Black inventions and the significance of the show venue below:
It’s not lost on us the significance of Jean-Raymond selecting this gorgeous estate as the backdrop for his debut couture show. Villa Lewaro—the home of the legendary, first Black woman self-made millionaire Madame C.J. Walker—is steeped in Black history. From being designed by Vertner Tandy—the first African American registered architect in New York and a founding member of the illustrious fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha—to being the site of many iconic dinners and galas, the historic land we were fortunate to stand on was a fitting place for Kerby’s inaugural couture show. What better place to present a love letter to Black American invention than the stately, Italianate style home of a Black beauty icon and inventor? Her presence was deeply felt, as the clouds opened up and the sun beamed out, giving us perfect weather for the second showing. There was massive respect for the estate with the set design and production—shoutout to Beyond 8—that centered the house, incorporating it into the show. The front entrance—with its vast plaster ionic columns, could be seen from any seat. The icing on the cake was the finale, so to say, as Kerby and the models took to the terrace to re-create an infamous image of Madame C.J. Walker and her 1924 beauty convention attendees, spread across the terrace and lower gardens.
This collection, while being incredibly campy, takes on a deeper meaning as the clothes tell stories of often forgotten or erased American history. The Fire escape, the ice cream scooper, the folding bike, the padlock, the fire extinguisher—these are all inventions by American inventors. Black American inventors. So often contributions by Black inventors are left out of textbooks. It’s in line with the erasure that happens time and time again in this country. Some of these inventions are things we use daily yet aren’t taught in schools. For instance: we grow up hearing the name Thomas Edison but not Lewis Howard Latimer—who’s credited with improving the process for manufacturing filaments, you know what a light bulb needs to flick on!
This Collection makes a case for free Black expressionism. So often Black designers are confined to certain briefs, industry standards and conventions and with these 25 looks, Kerby is shifting the narrative of what fashion can look like for designers of color if resources and order fulfillment weren’t factors. A look featuring a tub of peanut butter, a robed headpiece adorned with bunches of rollers, a literal OG cellphone dress—it’s campy as can be. Camp—as shown at the 2019 Met exhibition—is oftentimes looked at primarily through a lens of whiteness. Camp translates to ostentatious, exaggerated and theatrical—which exist heavily within Black American culture. From B*A*P*S to the Bronner Brothers International Beauty Show to even Prince and traditional African American church attire—Black culture is organically campy and surrealist by nature. Kerby explores this fully within WAT U IZ.
Inspired by Solomon Harper—responsible for electrically heated hair rollers.
Inspired by Thomas Stewart—responsible for the mop clamping device (that wrings water out)
This dress pays homage to Harry T. Samspon—who is responsible for creating the first cell phone.
An homage to George Washington Carver—who’s credited with the invention of peanut butter.
Not only were these clothes that made you smile, but they were also clothes with purpose. Entertaining while also educating is not an easy feat and accomplished that, the Pyer Moss team did.
This was Kerby doing couture distinctively his own way. He very much could have went for the cliche couture tropes, like tulle and fancy, pretty gowns but instead he chose to use this collection to insert Blackness into the haute couture zeitgeist, taking a traditionally white-Eurocentric space and making it Black AF. This was for the culture! As couture is an artisanal, elevated approach to fashion, with this collection under his belt, I think we can plan to see even more conceptual approaches to design from him. It’s clear that Kerby and the atelier had fun conceptualizing this show—that’s adamant from the exaggerated looks, to the ambiance of the show and cookout—and for a Black designer, being able to create with no bounds, no limitations, is priceless. This was an historic moment, one for the books. It’s a show that will exist in the pantheon of legendary fashion show folklore for generation to come. Kerby and the atelier should be proud. Proud of putting on a show that will forever live on within the cannon of fashion show history. We can’t wait to see how and if the continuation of themes in this show carry into his anticipated showing in September, or subsequently throughout the rest of Kerby’s career. Bravo, Pyer Moss atelier!