This October, Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss will take the stage at Vogue’s third annual Forces of Fashion conference, joining a lineup of fashion heavyweights that includes Donatella Versace, Tom Ford, and Virgil Abloh. The 32-year-old Haitian-American designer has proved he can more than hold his own since he founded his label in 2013. His soulful, thought-provoking, and socially conscious approach to the runway has made Pyer Moss one of the most important shows on the New York Fashion Week calendar.
Here, five reasons why Jean-Raymond is a force to be reckoned with:
Because he made the runway a platform for social justice.
For his Spring 2016 show, Jean-Raymond produced a short film that would spark an urgent conversation around political activism on the runway. The 12-minute-long clip addressed the issue of race and police brutality head on, featuring the families of several black men who had died at the hands of law enforcement, including Nicole Bell, fiancée of Sean Bell, and Emerald Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, as well as the designer’s high-profile friends: Victor Cruz, Usher, and artist Kehinde Wiley among them. Not everyone approved of his Black Lives Matter messaging—he received death threats from far-right extremists after the show and several of the brand’s biggest retail accounts dropped out. Still, Jean-Raymond wasn’t discouraged. With Pyer Moss, he continues to prove that fashion can be a vehicle for positive change.
Because his clothes are a celebration of the Black American experience.
Since launching his label in 2013, Jean-Raymond has used his work to explore the rich and layered history of the Black American experience, a narrative that has, until now, been largely absent from the world of high fashion. Last September the designer highlighted this aspect of his mission, staging a show in Weeksville, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that became one of the country’s first free black communities when it was founded by James Weeks, an African-American man, in 1838. Jean-Raymond enlisted artist Derrick Adams to create the prints for the collection, and his heartwarming portraits of African-American family life covered silk pajama suiting and heavily embellished cocktail dresses. The tableau of black joy was completed with the presence of a full gospel choir, dressed in all white, who provided the soaring soundtrack. More than one of the best shows of the season, it presented a radical counterpoint to the tragedy porn and racist propaganda that continues to dominate tabloid headlines.
Because he’s disrupting the fashion system.
Jean-Raymond is a designer who marches to the beat of his own drum. He proved he has what it takes to win on his own terms last fall, scooping up the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Rather than splash out on a big-budget production for Fashion Week, he took a season off and invested the $400,000 prize money back into his business. The collection he’s planning to show this September won’t adhere to the traditional seasonal model—it will be see-now-buy-now instead.
Because he’s winning in the world of athletic wear.
What started as a one-time collaboration with Reebok in 2017 quickly became an award-winning partnership when Pyer Moss won Footwear News’s sneaker collaboration award the following year. Jean-Raymond didn’t stop there, though. He pitched the athletic brand an even bigger idea: Reebok Studies__, a new division of the company focused on fostering emerging talent, an initiative that was announced to the world last month. As artistic director, he’ll play a pivotal role in shaping a new narrative for the brand, one in which a sense of community and inclusion are guiding principles.
Because he understands that to realize the future you have to know your past.
When Jean-Raymond showed his Fall 2018 collection, there was one logo on the runway that stood out alongside Pyer Moss’s—that of Cross Colours. The cult streetwear label made racial unity its primary focus back in the ’90s, launching under the rallying cry “clothes without prejudice.” A season later, he would collaborate with FUBU, or For Us By Us, the black-owned brand that was hugely successful around the same time. Speaking backstage after his Spring 2019 show, he underscored the importance of paying homage to those who came before him. “We wanted to highlight designers that weren’t seen,” said Jean-Raymond. “These companies grossed hundreds of millions in their prime, but weren’t recognized in the same way that brands like Donna Karan were because they were considered urban, not fashion.” With his sights set on creating a holding company akin to LVMH, Jean-Raymond is poised to open doors for the next generation too.