Normally when someone is called a fashion risk taker, it is because they did something dazzling or daring or totally unexpected with a piece of fabric. Thursday night, during New York Fashion Week, that honor was handed to someone before they showed any clothes. Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder and head designer of Pyer Moss, literally made people in his audience gasp during the opening of his show. And he reminded everyone that fashion and social activism can, in fact, go hand-in-hand — and should more often.
Before the models came out, Jean-Raymond made the audience think about a trend they’d rather forget: police brutality against Black people. He showed a 15-minute video of 16 different cases of officers senselessly and violently harming — and at times, killing — Black people. It included footage of Eric Garner’s death by chokehold and Marlon Brown dying after being run over by a police car. And it made the audience so uncomfortable that Jean-Raymond said he considered not even showing the clothes, but “opening the door, letting everyone out” as soon as the film ended.
Fifteen minutes is a long time during Fashion Week. Many shows do not even last that long. But that is not why the audience squirmed and gasped — it was likely because they were not comfortable with this very ugly side of real life finding its way into their very superficially beautiful world of fashion.
Fortunately, Jean-Raymond decided he had a chance to speak out and he didn’t care if it broke the rules of convention or upset the audience if he did it. "For as long as I have this platform and for as long as people are going to listen to me — I’m going to take a stand on something and this is something that is important to me," he told The Huffington Post.
Some might argue that it is important to Jean-Raymond because he has repeatedly been stopped and frisked by police for doing absolutely nothing wrong, although cops seeing a Black man on the street felt otherwise. Yet more people — Black or not — could follow his lead and realize that this is important to him because people are being killed. And even more people could use the platforms that they have — whether it’s a catwalk, podcast or YouTube channel — to make a stand. A bold, unapologetic stand.
The fashion designer saw a greater good to showing his video, something beyond waking the fashion world up to the realities of what is going on. "If one person walks out of here today and is just nicer, or gives an opportunity...there are so many influential people in that room upstairs,” he told Huff Po. If one person decides that I'm going to give a Black kid a job now because the narrative I've been seeing on TV of him being a thug may or may not be true, I did my job. I changed one life and one life might change another life — and that's how the world changes. Little by little."
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(Photo: Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)