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Exclusive: Pyer Moss On How Upcoming Video Fights Racism

From racist model casting to rampant cultural appropriation, the fashion industry isn’t exactly a beacon of progressivism. But in a world where Allure tells white women to style their hair in afros and Zara sells Concentration Camp-themed pajamas, some within the business are looking to make changes. MADE Fashion Week alum Kerby Jean-Raymond, the designer behind Pyer Moss, is one of those people.

After causing a small sensation with a t-shirt called “They Have Names,” which listed the names of black men killed by the police, Pyer Moss is once again bringing social justice issues to the forefront of the fashion industry. As Robin Givhan reported in the Washington Post, Pyer Moss’s next show will include a video featuring activists and creatives sitting down for a discussion about race, racism, and police brutality. Those interviewed include Nicole Bell, the widow of Sean Bell, who was killed by the police in 2008, and Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station.

Givhan is also featured in the video. She wrote beautifully on the connection between Jean-Raymond’s video and the clothing. “Fashion, after all, is about everything,” she wrote. “It is an industry that, in its finest moments… brings outsiders in and exalts in their quirks; and it finds inspiration in diverse corners.”

Pyer Moss’s next show will combine mens and womenswear, the video and a traditional fashion show. Called “Oto Meet Saartjie,” the collection references the tragic stories of Oto Benga and Saartjie Baartmen, Africans that were paraded in zoos for the amusement of Westerners. Kerby Jean-Raymond spoke to Milk’s Jocelyn Silver about his motivation for creating the video, his experiences with police brutality, and the pressures of being a prominent black designer.

Could you tell us about how the video fits into the collection?

So the collection is a collaboration between me and [artist] Gregory Siff. We came up with the concept after having a long conversation on the brutal ways that these young men and women are being gunned down by law enforcement. And we talked a lot about how perception plays a logical role in the fear that causes these officers to act the way they do. Because there’s really no reason why a grown man should be that scared of a seventeen year-old child.

The video is part of the collection. You could consider it ‘Look One.’ The video is really challenging the narrative that’s been sort forth by media. People who aren’t accustomed to black people, who have only seen us on television, might think that we’re aggressive, or that we’re less than, or that we deserve to be killed by the police. This is more or less like a conversation with my friends, whether they be in the industry or celebrities or politicians or clergymen or whoever, just to challenge that narrative. To say, yes, we’re black, but we like pancakes and Seinfeld like you. That’s more or less what we’re trying to get across.

People who are involved in this video have a responsibility to the fans of our work, who buy our things, or support our music or our fashion or whatever, to protect them. When certain people were backing out, it was just kind of funny to me. You make such bold statements to sell your music or your clothing, but when there’s no opportunity for monetary gain, you’re not willing to protect these people anymore.

You can’t name names, can you?

Typically, I’m an asshole and I would. [Laughs] But I’m gonna refrain from it for now.

I read in the Post that the police mistook your arm cast for a gun, and that that experience inspired the video. Could you tell me about that?

The video originally had a different concept. It was going to be a lot more raw than it is. It was more like a shock-value kind of video, and we completely scrapped that. I was just like, I’m done with this race thing. I had that ACLU shirt, and the New York Times ran this article, and the headline was just so atrocious. It was like a stupid fucking TMZ headline. So I was just like, I’m not doing this anymore. I just thought, “I’m not going to stir the pot.” The same day that I texted Gregory telling him that I was stopping the video idea, me and my sister were on the phone. I didn’t want to lose [her call] by stepping into the elevator in my building, so I stood in front of the building and talked to her. I was in a cast.

I turn around, and there are six cops, two with their guns drawn. They thought that my cast was a weapon. So that day, I felt like, as much as I’d want to pretend that this issue is not mine, that could’ve been me, because of something so stupid. There’s an underlying issue there, and it’s that [the cop] didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because of my color.

Do you feel that this pressure to say something is unfair? I mean you’re a fashion designer; this doesn’t have to be your responsibility. So what inspired you to use your platform in this way?

It is unfair. I like that word. It is very unfair that I’m kind of thrown into this position, and I don’t necessarily want to do it.

Yeah, it’s not like somebody’s going to say, “Oh, you’re a white designer, you have to stand up for all white people.”

Right, exactly. As humans, we’re responsible for each other. We’re responsible to love each other, we’re responsible to care for each other, we’re responsible to protect each other. I want to be like everybody else. I want to just travel and smoke weed and be a hippie just like everybody else. But you can’t ignore what’s happening. I have a responsibility to my little nephew, to my cousins who are growing up. I have this platform to make sure that doesn’t happen to them.

I was raised in a very loving environment. We never really saw race. I never really saw it as a huge issue. I think the first time I really experienced a really racist act was when Patrick Dorismond was killed by the police right in front of me, in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was pulling out his keys. We were in the car watching.

How old were you?

I must have been eleven or twelve. That was the first time. And then that same year, we were playing in the schoolyard across the street from my house. It was summertime so they locked the gates, and so we climbed over them. We were just little kids; we wanted to play handball, basketball. The cops came. We couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old. The cops had us get down on our knees and face the wall, and they all had their guns out. That makes you think, is this normal? You start questioning things. I just feel like I can’t really shut my mouth with my family and the friends that I have. They wouldn’t let me get away with that.

Images courtesy of Kerby Jean-Raymond. Check out the full mens’ SS16 collection in the slideshow above.

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