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Pyer Moss Impresses With Couture Show Honoring Black Innovators
Paris Fashion Week

Pyer Moss Impresses With Couture Show Honoring Black Innovators


IRVINGTON, N.Y. (AP) — The weather gods, as well as the fashion gods, were smiling on Kerby Jean-Raymond and his label, Pyer Moss.

Two days after torrential rains and lightning forced Jean-Raymond to postpone the unveiling of his eagerly anticipated first couture collection, the sun came out on Saturday and the crowds returned, rewarded with a hugely imaginative, visually audacious show that blurred the lines between fashion and art while paying tribute to the ingenuity of Black inventors who are often overlooked.

There was a peanut butter dress — literally, a huge, soft sculpted jar of the stuff — a stunning hot roller cape — which was exactly what it sounded like, hot rollers from head to toe — an ice cream cone with chaps for the cone, an air conditioner, an old-fashioned mobile phone, and a kitchen mop.

There was a pastel pink lampshade dress with beaded fringes, a chess board, a white metal folding chair, and a bottlecap — each costume a sophisticated work of sculpture — and a refrigerator with colorful letter magnets spelling out the phrase: "But who invented Black trauma?"

There were also dancers, a rap musician, a string section, and a history lesson from Elaine Brown, a Black Panther Party activist, writer, and former leader.

In an interview after the show, Jean-Raymond stated that his goal was to “highlight inventions by Black people and show them in a nontraditional way,” involving 3D construction and sculpture.

All Pyer Moss shows generate a lot of buzz, but this one drew extra attention because Jean-Raymond was the first Black American designer invited by France's Chambre Syndicale to show a collection during Paris Couture Week. The event was livestreamed, and officials in Paris extended Couture Week to accommodate the rescheduled show.

And the setting was significant: Villa Lewaro, an early twentieth-century mansion in leafy Irvington, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from New York City built by Madam C.J. Walker, the daughter of enslaved parents who became a hair-care magnate and self-made millionaire.

“Black prosperity begins in the mind, in the spirit, and in each other,” Jean-Raymond wrote in the show notes. “She knew that no dollar amount could ever satisfy the price tag of freedom — that green sheets of paper and copper coins could never mend souls, heal hearts, or undo the evil we’ve endured.”

Chartered shuttle buses transported guests from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the rescheduled show Saturday included a public contingent, adding to the excitement.

It began with Brown's speech, in which she gave a sort of history lesson of the Black struggle for justice in America and asked the crowd, "Where do we go from here? Where does the freedom movement go from here?" She urged the crowd to look past differences and "get back on the freedom train."

Then came the dancers, who were men in white who gradually shed their jackets and eventually their shirts as rapper 22Gz performed several songs, including "Sniper Gang Freestyle" and "King of NY," while the models walked the circular runway.

To meet the demands of a couture collection, Jean-Raymond and his team went through an exacting and exhaustive process, he said.

“We went through many rounds of design,” he explained. “We started with a completely different concept, then the team went to Joshua Tree and did ayahuasca together, and then we came back with this concept.”

“So it wasn’t just couture in the traditional sense where we’re sewing up garments,” he explained, “but there was also welding and fiberglass molding, and we made shoes.”

The hair curler outfit alone took months, he said, because "it was just people sitting there curling real weaves onto hair rollers. You know, the bottle-cap took two months. Every time we made something, we sat back and thought, 'How can we make it better?' And every time the construction got more complicated."

Jean-Raymond was relieved that he wouldn't have to deal with inclement weather on Saturday.

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“It’s been a long, long process to get here,” he said, “but I’m very happy with the results and that the audience gave us a second chance after that monsoon on Thursday nearly wiped us out.”

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Ted Shaffrey, an Associated Press video journalist, helped with this report.

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