On Sunday, Business of Fashion introduced its seventh annual BoF 500, “a community of people shaping the global fashion industry that grows stronger over time.” In an article announcing the list, BoF shared how it determines who should be considered: “Each year since 2013, we have been sourcing and discovering new names to add to our community of people shaping the global fashion industry based on nominations from existing BoF 500 members.” People like model Adut Akech, Valentino's creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, Chicago rapper Chika Oranika, Dapper Dan, and of course, the designer behind Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond, made the final cut. Only, Jean-Raymond says the sourcing came at a cost.
In an article published to Medium, Jean-Raymond explained exactly where and how Business of Fashion got him fucked up. It all started when the designer was offered a chance to speak during BoF Voices, a conference in London 2018. He told the publication that he did not want to participate in group panel discussions but rather preferred to give his version of a fashion “Ted Talk” on stage with Bethann Hardison. Mid-flight to the conference, he was told that despite his initial request, the speaking engagement would be a group panel: a conversation between Bethann Hardison, Patrick Robinson (the former creative director of Gap and Armani Exchange) and his friend and designer LaQuan Smith, moderated by Tim Blanks. Jean-Raymond says he felt insulted by the last-minute switch — and he assumed the group panel was their plan all along — but nonetheless agreed to take a call with BoF's editor-in-chief Imran Amed some months later.
“He said he’d seen the work I’d been doing with Pyer Moss and in the community and I’d been selected to be on one of the 3 covers of the BoF 500 magazine,” Jean-Raymond writes. “Big oh ‘shit’ moment for me [..] So this now began a series of phone calls between him and I and meetings in Paris.”
What transpired from there, Jean-Raymond explains, is a series of calls where he allowed Amed to pick his brain for other names to include on their September cover series — as well as a list of “diverse” people to include on the BoF 500 list. Because he was under the impression that he'd be featured on the cover, Jean-Raymond shared news with the BoF staff that he hadn't made public yet. But that cover never materialized. When the covers were released Monday, Jean-Raymond was not featured on them (Chika and Dapper Dan each have solo covers while Akech and Piccioli share one together). The designer is mentioned only on the BoF 500 list.
The straw that broke the camel's back, he says, was arriving to the BoF 500 gala, and seeing a Black gospel choir. “This man, Imran, turns into Kirk Franklin and starts dancing on the stage with them and shit. To a room full of white people," Jean-Raymond recalls. "What motivates someone to feel that they have the right to do a Kirk Franklin dance on the stage? Because ultimately that level of entitlement is the core issue. People feeling like they can buy or own whatever they want … if that thing pertains to blackness. We are always up for sale.” Some of the Black attendees present felt so "terrible" and "helpless" that they left the event in "tears", Kerby explained.
He also took the opportunity to speak directly to Amed. “I think your brand is exploitative, you proved that it’s fueled by corporate interest and shitty business practices. I understand that you have to make money, we all are selling something, but dawg, not your soul. And not ours.”
On Tuesday night, Amed responded to some of Jean-Raymond's statement, specifically his use of the gospel choir at the BoF 500 gala. “I can also assure you that this [inclusion] topic is not a trend for me either,” Amed wrote in a post titled Why I'm Listening To Kerby Jean-Raymond. “I feel strongly about this because for most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider myself. Growing up, I was the always the smallest kid in the class. As the son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants to Calgary, Canada from Nairobi, Kenya, I was also the only brown kid in my class. And, although I didn’t know it then, I was gay.”
Amed says the times when he felt happiest as a child were at choir rehearsals. “The first time I remember feeling included was when I discovered choir and musical theatre in fifth grade,” he continues. “I felt completely differently about myself at our evening rehearsals compared to how I felt at school during the day because I could just be myself.”
He did not address the way Jean-Raymond says he was treated, the emotional labor he did to help Amed with his list of honourees, or even the picture circulating online of his mostly-white staff. Instead, he wants readers to know “one of the reasons why I set out to build an inclusive culture at BoF, where our 110 employees come from almost 30 different countries and many different races, genders, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientations.” He hopes after all this dies down, BoF and Jean-Raymond can be “allies” to bring people together.
Jean-Raymond has never shied away from standing up for himself or his community — and he hasn't wavered even after winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and gaining Anna Wintour’s admiration. After his fashion show at Weeksville Heritage Center last September, he corrected those who claimed he failed to bring awareness to the historic site, which preserves the history of the first free African American community. He didn't hesitate to address white journalists who described him using coded racist language to diminish his career accomplishments. In an interview with Refinery29, he spoke out about being “ostracized” and treated “like a pariah in the industry” after staging a New York Fashion Week show around Black Lives Matter in 2017.
It's clear that Jean-Raymond isn't going to hold his tongue, no matter how successful he becomes. Nor should he. As he said in his medium post, “me getting checks is not going to stop me from checking you.”
We've reached out to BoF for comment and will update this story if/when we hear back.
This article was originally published on Tuesday, October 2, 2019.