Innovation and authenticity are two defining forces at the heart of Pyer Moss. Founded in 2013 by Kerby Jean-Raymond, the visceral Creative Director uses fashion as a means of translating his personal interests in art, film and politics into luxurious fashion garments – an approach undeniably rendered in his premiere couture collection. Kerby’s work is of rebellion and risk-taking, encapsulating the delicate equilibrium between nostalgic themes and social commentary. Reflecting on the shared experiences of people of colour, collated in his designs, he blends provocative showmanship with exquisite craftsmanship and philanthropy.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 45. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Kerby Jean-Raymond’s debut couture collection for Pyer Moss, Wat U Iz, was recently unveiled as the first Black American designed collection to present at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. It was a joyous spectacle, conjuring a wholehearted sense of celebration of community and Black invention. The collection sparked a dialogue akin to a history lesson but injected with an expedient dose of Pop Art humour. Shining a light on twenty-five overlooked inventions born from the minds of Black people, the garments abandoned the usual silhouettes of the brand opting instead for bulbous and quirky forms. Discernable in the designs were Black contributions such as the mop, peanut butter, ice cream, thermal hair curlers and the horseshoe, all found in a list at the US Library of Congress and the Black Inventor Online Museum. The campy surrealism redefined the possibilities of exceptional craftsmanship and the meaning of couture.

With the only woman leader of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown, opening the show with a poetic speech, the necessity of mobilisation became ever apparent. The vivacious vocals of rapper 22Gz and the operatic background singers bellowed over the live music soon after, complimentary to the clothes, and elevating what could have been a classic catwalk to a jubilant spectacle, unparalleled in its exuberant atmosphere. Simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and dead serious, the collection gave effect to a steadfast message on the erasure of Black and Brown history as a direct result of whitewashing. Kerby proposed to play with the oppressive structures that have failed people of colour in the past – to not only defy them but also to rewrite them.
In the current social climate, it’s not hard to become disillusioned and disappointed by the work that is being done to amplify Black narratives. However, Kerby managed to create a stimulating fashion event that played with concepts of grandeur and childish cartoon caricatures from animation studios like Pixar and shows like Sesame Street and Teletubbies, whilst maintaining an assured representation of Black narratives.

Kerby’s rich history in New York’s Flatbush serves as a grounding body for his work, imbuing him with an understanding of the real-life consequences of oppression and a solid set of friends that have been by his side since his youth. He is an uncle, brother, designer, cultural commentator, creative director, musician, and human being. He is critical of the oppressive structures that have allowed society to slip into a duality, advocating for imagination and for a world without hate.

He is witty, intelligent, and critical of culture. An empath by nature and an artist by nurture, he offers a key perspective on the state of the world as well as his own identity as a Black man. It can be challenging to move within these spaces, but his ideas have often been to give a loud and clear voice to people of colour. With compassion, Kerby Jean-Raymond is forging the future of fashion. And we’re here for it.
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Coat and trousers REEBOK BY PYER MOSS Collection 4, shoes REEBOK BY PYER MOSS Experiment 4, jewellery JOHNNY NELSON and Kerby's own. Morgan & Shaun wear full looks PYER MOSS and gloves REEBOK BY PYER MOSS.
Your shows extend beyond the clothes into music, social issues, dance and food, which all contribute to creating a very stylish and close-knit, family-party feel to your shows. Can you share more about why you’re doing fashion differently?
I don’t know any other way. Pyer Moss is the culmination of all my ideas. I don’t divorce any of my hobbies or my life and personal interests from the brand. The other thing too is that I live in New York, I work in New York, and I was born and raised here. So, when I go to the MET Gala after-party, or my show, it’s the kids I grew up with [that are there], and they are genuinely excited for me because they’ve been with me every step of the way. Half of the people that show up to my stuff are friends that I’ve known since first or second grade. I meet a lot of new friends who are from all around the world and some of them may be celebrities, but the people who I hold dear to me stay with me and they get blended into the scene. But whenever the people who I’ve met in the entertainment and Hollywood fashion space come to hang out with us, especially those who are not from New York and move here for work, they’re like, Oh! It’s home-cooked food here! It’s people who’ve known each other for more than 25 to 30 years. So, it transfers in everything that we do, and keeps that same energy because it’s just who’s around.
That’s really beautiful. You don’t often hear a lot about people having their friends around in the industry so many years later, especially not from their childhood. So, that’s really incredible.
It’s a little hard to navigate because I approach new friends with the same trusting energy that I give the friends I grew up with – and sometimes that backfires. Some people are not altruistic, or they think that I’m not altruistic, so they treat me differently. It’s a learning curve, especially when people are not used to how we roll. But if I do something for you it’s because I genuinely like you, not because I want anything in return. I think that’s a hard thing to navigate and it’s good that I have my friends around who can show newcomers our example of that loyalty in our lives, but some people don’t always get the hint and don’t respond to it in a way that I would hope for.
You are a source of inspiration for many young creatives and designers alike; but also just kids. You speak about your nephew CJ a lot, who I imagine looks up to you and the work you do a great deal. But who do you look up to? Who inspires you?
CJ looks up to me, but he’s a little bit of an asshole sometimes too. He’s coming into his own and he’s in that ‘mean’ age right now. When he was little, he was completely attached to me and wouldn’t make a move without me. He called me uncle-daddy. He was like my son. He is like my son. He’s just going through his little mean ass teenage years right now. He’s a good kid, the sweetest kid; but he’s hella hormonal. He wants to play basketball. He likes girls. He’s figuring it out.
I look up to a lot of people close to me. One of the people I look up to is Brittany Escovedo, who helped me start this brand and works for me to this day. My family also. And Nate Hinton – who’s on this call –, who’s built his business in a very white-dominated space and takes Black people to different heights. He truly changed my life. And then there are a lot of women around me who have inspired me from day one. For example, Kay Unger – I was with her last night. She’s definitely like my mum. She came into my life at the right time. I met her when I was 14, seven years after my mum died, and she gave me my first job in fashion. She’s still puppeteering and pulling strings because she loves me like her son and she’s there to this day if I need something. For example, I just started dating someone and she quizzed the girl last night; I felt so bad for her (laughs)
How about in design?
In the design space I really look up to Kahlil Joseph, Lena Waithe, and Melina Matsoukas. I dedicated my show to so many dope American designers who I feel are some of the greats in the world: Jeremy Scott, Bob Mackie, Patrick Kelly and Christopher John Rogers – who is developing a fire silhouette and whose colour scheme is crazy. I look up to sneaker designers heavy too. At Reebok, I’m surrounded by some crazy designers who put me to shame, and I have to technically rediscover feet every time. This one kid, Evan Belforti, helped me design The Experiment 4’s and The Sculpt. He’s so trapezoidal in his way of thinking.
I’m also a huge Rick Owens fan. I think he’s not only a designer, but he’s almost created his own in-real- life Sims – a world you can go to. I’ve never missed a Rick show until the one that happened yesterday, but when you go to a Rick show, you see these seven-foot-tall ninjas coming in and they’re dressed in black high heel boots. I’m always like, holy shit, this man has fabricated an entire world!
I was talking to someone the other day about people who are fully expressed – who’ve dealt with their emotional traumas and healed their inner, wounded child – that go out into the world and create these worlds around their thoughts and their ideas: people like Dolly Parton, Liberace, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson to a certain extent, and Prince.
Let’s chat about your couture collection, Wat U Iz. Your narratively rich designs served as a tribute to twenty-five Black inventions drawn from an extensive list at the Library of Congress and the Black Inventor Online Museum. The show was an ambitious conceptual project, but you managed to put on an incredible extravaganza, a whole production, even after getting rained out. Tell us about the importance of having a good party and celebrating your achievements – particularly after so long without in-person shows and parties.
I’ve had a lot of deaths in my family this past year, and just around me in general. I lost one of my close friends a few weeks ago and another close friend a month ago; my aunt at the top of Covid; my stepbrother’s mum. I’ve lost a lot of people who were close to me, and I think the way I’m approaching my work now is from a place of celebration, collaboration, and happiness.
When we got this opportunity to do couture, our first inclination was to be self-serving and create to compete with other couture designers. But that wouldn’t have brought anyone new into the world of couture and that’s why we redesigned it twice. We got to the point where we had created these sculptures and these sort of Teletubbies, Sesame Street-like things, because I primarily wanted to pull in new eyes on the art form. Then I wanted to use the opportunity to sell clothes because nobody sells couture – there’s something like fifty couture consumers in the world. So, I felt it was a higher-level platform for me to communicate on. I wanted to make the communication easier and just funny and inviting.
How are you feeling now?
I think this past year has changed me a lot and I was angrier about a lot more things than I was grateful for. In that gratefulness and newfound energy, I wanted to create something that was a little bit more lighthearte, less serious. All that technicality and all the other things don’t really bring a smile to people’s faces. You go to a runway show and everybody’s on their phones. What we were able to do is stop people in their tracks and call attention to some of the legends that, in that space, have tried to do this joy-bringing – everybody from Betsey Johnson to Jeremy Scott to Patrick Kelly.
I think the result of that energy and that happiness and that ease of entry for people, to be pulled into couture in that way, not only reinvigorated and made onlookers feel something but it also lessened the barrier of entry and made things a little bit lighter at a time when we really needed it. What results from that is people will be stuck in the rain and be like, This thing feels so good, I’m just going to dance and fuck my shoes up, and then come back the second day and then do the same thing and dance and fuck my shoes up, and then come back two months later from the MET Gala and dance and fuck my shoes up. That’s the energy I want. I don’t want to bring any darkness to this world.
The collection follows perfectly everything you have been building at Pyer Moss. Can you explain to us a bit more about how you conceived the idea? I read in Vogue that it came from an Ayahuasca ceremony, really? Please tell us more about it. Did you have it clear in your mind from the beginning what focus you wanted?
We’re at this point now, with so many collections in the chamber, and we were just thinking the morning we got to Joshua tree. Then we had a call with someone on the board of the Couture Federation and we were invited. At first, we had this intention of using the platform to release this other idea that we had been working on. It was still going to be contradictory and disruptive, but it wasn’t in the spirit of happiness of creating something light. It was, again, self-serving. We had intended to use the platforms to get more eyes and to sell the product line.
But you ended up doing something completely different because of the ceremony.
That night my whole team did Ayahuasca, and it was life-changing. It was the craziest experience of my life. I think every Black person should do it, and then I think every Black person should follow up with talking therapy, and then every Black person should have a group of people that they can do group therapy with outside of talking therapy with a professional in a very loving environment. I think that’s super important for all of us. I think for us to heal and to radically expose the systems that oppress us and to be triumphing in this fight, we need to heal. So much of that has to happen.
So, when we did that, our moods changed and our experience with each other changed. Our experience with what we were looking at, what we had drawn, what we had for Collection Four, what we had ideated in that eight hours between the ceremony and the call, completely shifted after that. Beate Karlsson on my team started drawing these bubbly ass blimp-shaped things. I hated it. But then I went back to it, looked at it, and I just saw this peanut butter jar in my head. It was the first look I sent to the team, and I was like, somebody draw a peanut butter jar. They were like “why?” And I said, George Washington Carver. Then I went to look for the inventions list a week or two later because we had just started drawing shit. It was just inventions that are Black contributions that I remembered; it wasn’t even inventions per se. It was more so things that represent Black culture. Then it got a little bit more specific and precise.
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Vinyl raincoat PYER MOSS.
I think that’s very interesting. How did the process evolve?
As I did more and more research I was like, holy shit! I didn’t even know we invented the traffic light and all these other things! So, I asked, how many other kids don’t notice this? And then it became a responsibility. Knowing those things isn’t to establish any sort of supremacy over another person or another race or anything like that, it’s just to say, I could do this too. Somebody who did this is like me, especially when the world is constantly beating you down and telling you that you can’t do it. Somebody just like me, from a similar background as me, invented the air conditioner? We have so many examples of Black excellence right now that are rooted in entertainment. But there’s so much shit happening in academia too, and in the science space, in the STEM space, all these other things that are equally, if not more important than some of what we currently idolize.
Yes, I agree.
I’ve been good at highlighting our past in different ways and talking to us in different ways, but I wanted to use this opportunity to pile on and say, okay, we did this and this and this. I also wanted to create some controversy too because when we started, I drew up all these dresses – and they were great – but I was like, cover them. I’ll give you an example: the hair roller dress was supposed to be a print. If you look at some of my collections, I always have a wedding gown or something, so it was going to be more of those with the sublimation of these prints of these different things alluding to the inventions. And I thought, man, that’s going to be cool for the fashion kids. But who cares though? There are so few of them, and there are so many of my nephews. So, I’d rather do it for CJ so he can immediately see it. And in the way that the show was conducted too, we had similar messages being delivered in two different ways from Elaine Browne and 22Gz. I wanted it to be something that makes an impact over the years and is not just consumed in seven minutes and spat out.
Coming back to your peanut butter pot garment, it really caught my imagination – it made me think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup prints. Was that an intentional reference?
Honestly, I didn’t reference anyone intentionally at first, and once we started to put things together and share it with the Federation and they had to approve the collection by going through the whole thing, I started to see it – but I never saw Andy Warhol. I saw Jeremy Scott and Viktor & Rolf – but they’re not American. When I was studying what other people have done in couture, I looked at McQueen, Valentino, Schiaparelli, Iris Van Herpen, and was trying to intentionally avoid what they were doing. But after a while I embraced it – especially the American designers. There were a lot of colour tributes in there to Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. And I wanted it to honour us (Americans).
The campy humour in your eccentric designs hints at the fun of your personality. On paper, journalists will have you as the designer whose main characteristic is political engagement, but your friends know you as the comedian. You’ve said of the couture collection that you didn’t want it to be “regular” but rather “like Sesame Street and Pixar.” So, the camp nature of the clothes was intentional, with humour at the root of who you are as an individual. But, why do you think it’s important to maintain a sense of humour and lightness within the work you do, and in fashion more generally?
I faced so much tragedy as a kid, and I’m still unpacking those traumas. If anything, the last two years have taught us that life is super short. So, I’m going to try to get through it as happily as I can. In the beginning there was a lot of pressure to keep up, to sort of adapt to whatever energy was in this space in the industry. I would see what my favourite designers were doing, what they were acting like. I couldn’t replicate that though because it isn’t me. I can’t be mean; I can’t yell at models – it’s not my style, it’s just not who I am. It’s not my intention to piss people off or leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
Overall, the energy around the brand is so young and so inexperienced; everybody is just trying to figure things out because there’s never been a brand like this for us. And the last thing I want to do is, with that confusion while everybody is trying to figure this shit out, have a sense of tension. The work that we create should be fun because everything else behind the scenes is really stressful.
Do you think humour, entertainment and extravaganza help when communicating a message?
You definitely catch more bees with honey than shit.
Pop art is part of a crossover between what might be defined as high and low cultures. Is that a topic that interests you: moving between exclusive work and work that is simply for the people?
Yeah, I think from now on, I want to use that couture platform and platforms like that – whether I’m at museums, doing gallery shows, or creating these conceptual films – to get those high-level ideas out there with no intention or pressure of trying to monetise them. But, at the same time, I do have a business with Pyer Moss, and it is our responsibility to win in that space and make sure that it’s commercially viable. Because if it ends, I’m afraid of what that message would trigger in all the kids who are trying to do the same thing as me. So, it’s important that we have a sense of extravaganza with some of the platforms that we’re offered, but at the same time, that we also balance commerciality and accessibility because, as a designer, my goal is to get the clothes on as many people as possible. I don’t care how much they pay for it. I just want to see my stuff on as many people as possible.
The horseshoe design refers to your time with The Horse Nation at Standing Rock, showing solidarity to the protests there against the North Dakota Access Pipeline. How did that experience touch you?
That was one of the wildest experiences of my life. I was meant to go to Art Basel that year, but my boy Vic Mensa hit me up and sent me these news articles. He was like, “Yo, have you seen what’s happening?” I saw that they were blowing water on people in freezing- degree temperatures and people were getting frostbite from being out there protesting. I was like, well, what do I have access to? It was gloves, socks, heat warmers, leg warmers, coats, and those types of things. So, I flew up to Chicago, we got a bus, and we drove the bus from Chicago to South Dakota. Man, when we got there, it was something like negative seven, and by the middle of the night it was about negative twenty. Our phones didn’t work because it was too cold. We had to sleep in a huddle. It was the craziest experience. But there was so much love there.
When I met the people of the Sioux tribe and The Horse Nation, I experienced joy in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. These people had everything and to an outsider, it could look like they had nothing. But the things they were trying to protect were nature – that’s what their possession was. They wanted to protect the land’s right to exist, the water’s right to not be polluted, and the ancestral space that they were promised in dealings with the United States government. But then there came some capitalist interest without any deal- making with the tribes, encroaching on their land and potentially polluting one of the last clean water reservoirs that they all used. So, as with everything that happens around the world, it affected me as a person.
I’m an empathetic person, so I could feel what the people were feeling, or at least I could try to put myself in their shoes. And when I’m in a position to help I always try to, as much as I can. Sometimes I can’t and I still do it. It might mess me up financially or whatever the case, but I still do it because I know I’m going to be okay.
No, that’s important and I really respect that. So, your chess-piece suit captures the zeitgeist. It references the noble African-Egyptian history of the invention of chess. Tell me more about this look.
Honestly, when we were going through the list, we picked out the things that we were most surprised about, and some of those things had conf licting histories. I think that’s part of the erasure that we’re trying to correct. So, a lot of these things don’t even exist on the Internet, and you have to go into libraries and really research through physical books and, for whatever reason, the powers that be don’t show the history of these things from the Byzantines and Indians to all of these different Black and Brown origins – those things got whitewashed. So, I think it’s important, especially in these twenty-five looks, to expose the hypocrisy of the current age but also the erasure that’s happened systemically over time.
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Coat GUCCI, trousers LOUIS VUITTON, shoes PYER MOSS The Sculpt Red, jewellery JOHNNY NELSON and Kerby's own.
I’d like to speak about the meaning of this collection for your career and this crucial moment in your life that you find yourself in. It seems to me that this collection is making a big statement on everything that has come before at Pyer Moss, and everything that you have associated yourself with – now, it seems like you want to take it even further. I imagine it must feel very stifling having to carry the title or label ‘activist’ or ‘Black’ designer all day. Can we speak a bit about this? This edition of METAL explores the possibilities of constructing a new, better world, and I’d like to talk a bit about that with you. Do you envision a world without labels or does that sound totally utopic? A world where a designer is just a designer, and a trans actress is just an actress. Where we don’t have to always be justifying, defending or reclaiming our identities or ourselves...
People are tribal. We need something to belong to. I was in a gas station the other day coming from Emily Bode’s wedding and I was talking to this guy who was American flagged out. And then I realised that he just needs something to belong to. I don’t think it is realistic to imagine that people would not want titles, hierarchy, or territory. It’s what makes people feel like they have a sense of purpose – something to protect. I think, even in aspects of fashion and how we create art, we go after these awards because we want validation, we want fellowships and we want community. It’s just an extension of who we are as people and it’s in our primal nature, so I don’t think that that’s ever going to go away.
How do you feel when people call you an activist?
I’m not an activist. I’ve never been an activist. I don’t know what that word even means. I’m not activating. Well, I know what the word means, but I’m saying that I don’t know why I would be called an activist. I know true activists who spend every day lobbying, gathering answers, and working with policy makers in their communities incessantly. I would say I’m more of a philanthropist and someone who provides a platform for those who are currently facing oppression. I also use my resources to help them get out of these situations of oppression, whether it’s financially, my ability to communicate on their behalf, or my ability to corral people – powerful people – to make changes for them. But I don’t know if any or all of that would qualify me as an activist. I think those sorts of labels like ‘activist’ and ‘Black designer’ are fine, and you can call me whatever you want, but it just will get confusing when I inevitably am not doing those things and people are trying to hold me to something that I never agreed to.
Is the United States still the country of dreamers?
Yes. It is the greatest country in the world – that’s why everybody wants to come here. That’s also why everybody who’s already here wants to fix it and make sure it’s not completely fucked up. If the US wasn’t great, everybody would just leave because there are so many reasons to. I think this is a place where two Haitian immigrants can meet at a nightclub, make $600 a month combined, one of them dies, and their kid still turns out to be at the top of fashion.
What are you, and the creatives you run with, dreaming about?
I’m dreaming about a self-sustaining ecosystem where creatives like me don’t have to face the things that I have faced to be successful and can realise prosperity, generational wealth, and integrity in their work. Also, where they can continue to create platforms to pass this down and pay this forward. That’s what I’m doing; that’s what I’m building at Your Friends in New York – it’s the macro-dream.
So, coming back a little bit to the couture show, Elaine Brown, the only woman leader of the Black Panther Party, gave an incredibly inspiring talk at your show and I would love to hear more about why you specifically chose her.
Because of what you just said. Elaine Brown is one of the most interesting characters you’ll ever meet in your life. She speaks her mind. She is radical in every sense. She doesn’t take any shortcuts in her approach to being an activist and being a mouthpiece for oppressed people. She’s been doing the work and I wanted to show people how it’s done.
I think in this past year we’ve been getting a lot of lip service from white people who purported to care about Black lives, as well as Black people with means, of means, and from means, who pretended to care about Black lives. I also saw the abuse and all of these committees and things popping up just to take money from corporations and essentially steal on the back of Black pain. It was all kind of funny to me and I thought, wow, this is going to be a wild eighteen months, after George Floyd. I watched it all unfold and I was just like, let me show you how it’s done. Let me bring in the OG. Real respect is real, and I think that’s what mine and her relationship is.
Did you know her personally before the show?
We reached out before the show; we had to get to know each other very well. Elaine is not a person that you can just book for something; she is not like that at all. You have to mean something to her for her to leave her house. Same with 22Gz, he isn’t somebody easy to work with either. He’s from Flatbush as well, so he’s not known for being approachable.
There is something in the far-reaching and organising spirit of Pyer Moss that creates a nonetheless politically engaged community. Can you speak to the current and future forms of your community and why was Elaine the right fit?
I want people to know that part of this community is actually doing the work and not just calling themselves activists – not just retweeting something and going back to sleep thinking that they’ve done their job for the day. You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to actually do it. And even me, I’m doing as much as I can with the schedule that I can, but I still don’t do that – I still don’t call myself an activist.
We need to aspire to the point where we’re radically organizing in order to create systems that just don’t temporarily put a Band-Aid on things. You can’t call corporations to action one summer, get a couple of billion dollars in donations and then say that the work is done and go fatten your pockets. That’s not the move.
I agree. So, you are writing and drawing your own story, and we are so excited to speak to you about it. What are you enjoying more right now in this chapter of your life?
Self-help. Again, this has been a very tough year, and I think I’ve had to sit and deal with a lot of negative thoughts and internal conflicts. I think one of the things I’m super excited about is coming to terms with a lot of things by being in therapy. Just ridding myself of toxic people that my insecurities have brought on; people that nurse my insecurities; and they might not know better, but they continue to use and abuse where they see a weakness and take as much as I’m willing to give without ever saying like, “Hey, I see you’ve given enough.” You can’t expect that from people who leach, you have to create those boundaries yourself.
I think right now, what I’m most excited about is that I’m getting the tools to actively better myself so that I can put myself in a position of peace and just remove myself from all that noise, turmoil, and negativity. Especially in this industry,x because you meet so many good, dope people, but then there are some, even the ones that you’ve helped or that you’ve advocated for the most, even at your own expense, that leach. Sometimes those are the people that resent you the most and you have to ask yourself why you helped them in the first place – what was that insecurity and how did that insecurity breed this action that now brings in a new insecurity? I’m just learning how to better cope and navigate that space so that I can avoid the things that have trapped me in the past.
The fashion show is ephemeral, over in a matter of moments and often forgotten just as fast. In some cases, it starts, goes nowhere, and tells us nothing. How can we take a message like yours and sustain it beyond the bounds of the runway, so it echoes through both the industry and wider world for more than just a moment, so it’s given the chance to actually and effectively bring about change?
Well, that’s what we’re working on. I think what we’ve been good at is introducing multimedia into this space. We use a lot of short films and documentaries, and, as we expand, we’re moving into exhibitions and books and things that are a little bit more sustainable so that the message we deliver in these runway shows echoes and reverberates for years to come versus just being a figment of someone’s memory. We don’t consider ourselves necessarily just a clothing brand. We’re more of an art project than anything.
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Full look LOUIS VUITTON, jewellery JOHNNY NELSON and Kerby's own.
Okay. Yeah, absolutely. So, I’d love to know why you chose to start making couture, especially because Gaultier stopped producing it based on couture being a more or less unviable project financially for them. It reminds us this is the part of fashion that is, sometimes, for our indulgence. Can you speak more about why, despite the challenges, you chose to start making it?
The opportunity came to us, and when it did, I thought the same thing. But I used the platform to educate and show that we’re just opening the door. When I went to Reebok as the creative director, that hadn’t been done before. It was just another door opened. I wanted to show people who didn’t know what couture was what it is and put them on to it, but then also make the barrier of entry low and understand that this is going to be my avenue to give you my high-level ideas and some of my passion projects without having to mix that in with my normal runways and pollute it with things you can’t buy.
In line with that, political fashion is something of a catch-22, because you want to represent and advocate for what you believe in, but you also want people to appreciate the clothing. How do you keep successfully combining both elements over and over again? Is one more important to you than the other?
It’s a crazy balancing act, but we have been perfecting the formula. As I grow, I become less and less literal and figure out how to weave these messages in. They’re less political and more so a representation of my thoughts. So, if I was the sort of person who only cared about rock and roll or rap music or whatever, my collections might look like that. If I was a person who just cared about florals, my collection would look like that. But I’m a person who cares about people and about the world and the state of it, and self-preservation for people who have been oppressed. So, that’s what shows up in my work.
What I’ve seen, though, is we and other brands who are altruistic get a lot of press for the things that we do. And then you get these other designers who may not fully understand the space or what they want or who just want to come in and use the opportunity for notoriety because they’re facing financial pressures or whatever the case is. But I’d caution them to really think about what’s authentic to themselves and not try to be specifically political, but instead just try to be specifically human and it’ll come out a lot more authentically. There’s no need to try to be reactionary to every piece of news if it doesn’t correlate to who you are as a person in the community you represent.
In your childhood, your godsister’s husband – and fashion inspiration – was a FUBU fan, but you looked for “anything made in Italy”. Your brand is proudly African American, displayed by the wonderful tent from your show (look 13). From seeking Italian clothes as a child to putting American garments on the runway, how has the way you relate to Europe changed over time?
I think what I always appreciated was the style of urban brands, and I’ve always represented those that were coming up from and being born out of hip-hop culture. However, I also appreciate the craftsmanship and the quality of Italy. My reverse responsibility with Pyer Moss is to in-source that quality. One of the things that we’ve been doing very well in the past seven to eight months is getting that quality out of domestic factory partners in New York and LA – it just requires more fine-tuning.
At the same time, we’re working with Portugal and Italy on bags and shoes specifically because that equipment is readily available there and there’s a lot more experience there. But there’s no bias per se for Italian versus American or Portuguese or Peruvian manufacturing. It’s just a matter of where we’re going to be able to get reliable quality every time. I think it’s a bit like growing pains, as we learn what factories do what, and which regions do certain things better than others.
You have always been inventive with material – from exhibiting a waterproof wool bodysuit and a flotation device made from recycled bicycle inner tubes at MoMA’s Items: Is Fashion Modern? to sensitively designed coats that protect wearers well from their environment. I would love to talk about your thoughts on the future of textiles. What are you working on?
Primarily, when I’m dealing with textiles, I’m looking at things that fit within the story. The piece that you referred to was a sculpture I did for the MoMA made from bicycle inner tubes. What that was supposed to represent was rising water levels, specifically in places that are fashion capitals and are facing really grim climate futures. What I wanted to represent in that work is what will inevitably happen if we continue to consume, manufacture, and pollute at our current rate and not offset it. So that’s how those things would be conceived. Even in the collection, a lot of times, if I’m using Kevlar it’s representing gun violence. It’s part of the storytelling. But I’m still considering sustainability and I think what needs to happen is we need to reduce our use of water and source things more local to distribution so that the waste from transportation is less. As it pertains specifically to the materials though, I like to explore things that are made out of composted materials, upcycled, or biodegradable, but also maintain a luxury quality. So, we’ve moved away from synthetic fabrics and things that are harmful to the environment such as plastic. It’s a constant learning experience because every time we go to these fabric shows there are always new, insane innovations. I think the future of textiles, ultimately, is going to become more and more responsible.
I hope that we see that because I agree with how important it is. So what changes do you think we’re going to see in the rules that used to make or break you as a designer?
There are no more rules. That’s really what we did. When I say we, I mean the last generation of the past ten years, all these designers you’ve seen just coming up and completely shaking shit up and disrupting everything: from Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, to Matthew Williamson at Givenchy, to Heron Preston and Willy Chavarria at Calvin Klein, to Jerry Lorenzo and Kanye at adidas, and Martine Rose working with Balenciaga. All these different, non-traditional players coming in from mixed-media backgrounds and completely fucking things up. If you look at it, the it-bag of the past twenty years is the Telfar bag – and it’s not even leather.
There’s just so much disruption happening, and with the way that marketing is happening there are just no more rules. Telfar just launched a TV channel – that shit is incredible to me. The audacity of just saying, look, if you want to get the news about our stuff, you better come to our channel. There’s going to be no linear approach to brand building, and I think the brands that are taking the biggest risk face the biggest rewards.
There is a sense of maternal guidance attached to the Pyer Moss brand identity. After all, your mother, Vania Moss-Pierre is the brand’s namesake, and your film Seven Mothers goes into detail on your experience. How do the women who have been in your life relate to your design process?
Sometimes good. Sometimes really bad. But I think, overall, the brand is built in a way that intentionally includes women. Most of the people behind the scenes that have been doing this stuff with me for years are Black and Brown women who’ve had their own ideas and want the clothes to fit them a certain way. Even the person who helped me build the brand is a Black woman. Now, we’re finally launching women’s clothing in the coming months; that’s all being done by a team of women that have overall direction from me, but then they’re developing it in their own image.
I’m really excited to see all the work you’ve got coming out soon. Some of the garments we can see in the collection relate to happy childhood memories: ice cream with sprinkles as a treat, the old-school phone your dad carried, etc. What memories do you have of your childhood?
My dad used to buy ice cream for everybody – all my friends. That was his little flex. You would come out and get seven bucks, and all the kids would get like fourteen ice cream sandwiches. And, man, the next day I would go to school and everybody wanted to be nice to me because they knew my dad was going to buy them ice cream.
Also, my father is a technician, so he was always fixing consumer products and all these broken things around the house. We always had broken electronics around the house because he was a bit of a hoarder too. There was one of those big 1980s cellphones, and I used to walk around the house pretending I was on the phone with it.
So, when we were choosing how to represent these inventions, I wanted to focus on that time period – growing up in my household from around 1991 to 1996. So that’s why all those things, even the black leather sandals, are the ones that my dad wears. He always had his pinky- toe sticking out. So, we were going to make the pinkie toe but it looked a little gross. The mop thing came out gross too, but we wanted this gross little ‘rug ratsy’ feel – the toe thing was really nasty though, so we just scrapped it. But when we were developing the couture collection, everybody kept on submitting designs, shoes that look like our shoes, and I was like, no, no, no. This has to look like my childhood. So, we were very specific to that era.
Were you always interested in fashion?
No. I was always interested in sneakers. I wanted to be a sneaker designer.
Okay. So, how did that come about, going from sneakers into fashion? I ask this because I want to know if more than anything, you saw fashion as a vehicle for your other interests like art and music.
I went into the High School of Fashion Industries at age 13, and they had a shoe design programme I was super excited about. But by the time I got into the school, Giuliani had these budget cuts and cut the programme. I ended up being defaulted into a garment construction one that I hated because they had us doing little baby dresses and rompers and stuff like that. But my niece was born at the same time, and I remember making her a romper, and the satisfaction of a person wearing something I had made was a high that I’ve been trying to replicate ever since. I think that’s what drew me to it.
Then I got my first job and my first internship around the same time. I was working at a sneaker store out in Brooklyn called Ragamuffin, and at the same time I was interning at Kay Unger in New York. I was around 14 by then. Later on, I helped start Marchesa with Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman, and I just started to embrace it more. It wasn’t until very recently with the Reebok deal that I started to make sneakers of my own. I just took the long way home to get back to footwear.
It must be really nice to finally be doing that. And why is hybrid style that works across genres, scenes, and communities the most exciting?
It’s when you get to see a culmination of who everybody is, right? I think these hybrid models are working with people the same way MySpace did. MySpace was amazing because you could go into a page and see what kind of music or images that person was into. You could write a blog, and you got to see who the Top 8 were. I approach fashion with that same sort of MySpace mentality where it’s this culmination of all my ideas. And it’s exciting for me to see other creatives that are able to do that as well.
Finally, how do you see the future ahead of us? Are you an optimistic person? Because there are always those who say the best is yet to come, but how do you see the future?
You have to be optimistic, right? These are tough times, but there are ways to get through them. I’ve had my really emotional days and my I-can’t-take-it-anymore days. No one alive in the past twenty-four months has been a stranger to those feelings – some people worse than others. Some people have experienced more loss than others, more tragedy than others. But I think, as a people right now, what we’re experiencing is collective sadness. We’re losing a lot of people; millions of people have died across the world. Many things have changed and routines have been uprooted. The only thing that we can do is be kind to each other, watch what we say, stop being a fucking hater all the time, and get through this shit together. It’s the only way to stay alive.
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