This Designer Thoroughly Lambasted Capitalism & Greed In His Spring '17 Show

The ultimate objective of a fashion show is to sell clothes. Aside from making beautiful things and celebrating creativity, at the end of the day, fashion is a massive business: Annually, the fashion industry generates over a trillion dollars in sales globally (and nearly $370 billion in the U.S. alone). But capitalism and greed rarely, if ever, crop up as themes in designers' new collections. Leave it to Pyer Moss's designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond, to tackle those heady topics explicitly in his spring 2017 collection.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.

Jean-Raymond certainly doesn't shy from the heavier stuff: The designer truly uses his NYFW show slot to say something much bigger than his new style statements. In the past, he's addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and mental illness with aplomb. This season his show, titled "Bernie vs. Bernie," addressed the excess, greed, and unimaginative wardrobe choices of Wall Street's fat-cat financiers, as well as his own legal struggles with his business over the past year. The casting reflected the Wall Street ethos, too: Most of the models were a very classic, blond-haired, blue-eyed American Pyscho-esque aesthetic.

The designer also touched on how racial inequality too often means fiscal inequality; there were five Black women standing at cash registers (many of whom later sang), wearing name tags that read “No Name,” “Anonymous, " and “Nobody.” Then the show opened with "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems," — no, not the Notorious B.I.G. song, but a powerful poem by Cyrus Aaron."Money manufactures what matters. Matter fact man-u-a-fraction of matter...The Blaxit preceded the Brexit. You can't get a loan; Blacks don’t qualify. Can't lean on your own; Black dollars don't quantify," Aaron said in the piece.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
The captivating poem was packed with brilliant verses like these: "One in five kids are starving, high dropout rates, schools are closing, but the prison pipeline is open to the hungry and poor folks at the bottom. They are stealing our land from under our feet; robbing us of economical power. They built a Whole Foods on Malcolm X Boulevard. We let Christopher Columbus move uptown and rediscover Harlem. For an iced latte at Starbucks we sold out Harlem. What is the meaning of success if your people can’t afford you?"

Rick Ross may have been the most attention-grabbing guest (hey, it was nearly impossible to look away from his blinding pavé necklace), but the audience also included Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson. The activist met Jean-Raymond while they were doing a presentation at MoMA together, and it was Mckesson's first time ever attending a fashion show. "Kerby has demonstrated with his art a clear understanding of the issues that are resonating today; he's used his platform as a way to bring attention to the issues and also as a way to push people to have social dialogues," Mckesson told Refinery29.
"Art is both a window and a mirror: It's a window to help us see what is possible, and a mirror to see what is happening in the world we live in now, and this show did that wonderfully; I'm proud of Kerby," Mckesson said. As for the (pretty glacial) pace at which other designers have addressed these issues, he noted, "The fashion industry has been slower, but there are designers that are starting to see their role in the social context differently; it's just the beginning."

Below, Jean-Raymond filled us in on the potent mix of influences that inspired his collection's thought-provoking commentary on the perils of wealth and the embarrassing financial and racial discrepancies that still exist in 2016.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
Why did you reference Bernie Madoff and Bernie Sanders in the show's title, "Bernie vs. Bernie"?
"Madoff and Sanders represent two extremes of capitalism. One is all about excess and the acquisition of more and more shit, and the other wants to see everyone have the same means and access to achieve what they need to in this life. I've always felt like the idealist, Sanders."

How do those twists on Wall Street staples, like suiting and collared shirts, fit with the theme?
"They represent the sort of clothing that people who lack creativity wear. I've been applying for loans and speaking to investors lately, and they all seem to wear the same shit. I found it funny and incorporated it into the collection; things like drab khaki, double-breasted jackets, and white-collar striped shirting. I just did it in new shapes."

What's the story behind the dipped detailing on the shoes, which were created by Salehe Bembury, who's designed Yeezy kicks?
"Salehe came up with the concept. He made them all in two nights. It's a physical metaphor for being bogged down by your circumstances. And it looks cool as hell."

Why did you want Cyrus Aaron to perform at the beginning of the show?
"My girlfriend went to Cyrus's play, Someday, and forced me to come the next day. She said I couldn't miss it, and that it would change my life. She was right. After I saw it, I waited an hour backstage and asked Cyrus to collaborate with me. I told him how my year has been going, and he wrote that poem based on that. He wrote it as if he was my conscience speaking to me."

Why is Donald Trump mentioned in the show notes?
"I think Donald Trump is a low-rent god to the guys on Wall Street. He's done no real work in his life, hasn't created anything, openly racist, amassed fame and a hot wife; and now this guy could be president. So he was definitely inspiration for us during the styling and design process."

How does the show reference your own legal disputes as well? There's a
T-shirt with the docket of your lawsuit printed on the back of it (pictured below, right), for starters...
"I've been in this lawsuit with a lame person. It's been a legal mess, and it's been expensive for me. He's gone pretty far with this, and has acted like a deranged person on several occasions. Those matters are being dealt with by the police. His lawyers seem to think I'm at the helm of a billion-dollar company, and they are trying anything to make a nickel. It's embarrassing for his lawyer, I'm sure. But who cares about having class when you're getting paid, right?"
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
Photo: Courtesy of Pyer Moss.
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