Can a fashion designer, especially a successful one who’s pieces start in the triple digits for a simple tee, make a political statement about poverty and the American financial system without seeming hypocritical? Can you indict the 1% when you are making your own substantial living literally on the backs of the 1%? These are tricky questions, ones that open up a minefield of passions and heated arguments, they might even engage a social media flame war or two. But to not ask them, to ignore the obvious “elephant in the room” and to just make a passing comment about a collection being “politically inspired” is to do a disservice to what a designer, such as Kerby Jean-Raymond is trying to do, namely have a meaningful conversation, with his “Bernie vs. Bernie” Spring 2017 collection for his label Pyer Moss.
So let’s be brave and get to it.
What were the political statements made during the Pyer Moss Spring 2017 show?
The show was called “Bernie vs Bernie” meaning Madoff vs. Sanders, and began with an intense, thought-provoking, spoken word piece which discussed the repulsive nature of the American finance and legal system that let Madoff run amok with billions of dollars while hard working Americans were crushed under predatory mortgage companies and crippling debt .
How did these themes carry out through the show?
“Greed” was written across the fronts of sweaters, and thin “wall street banker” pinstripe prints were used, as well as bolder stripes that seemed to reference prison uniforms.
Did the pieces work outside of the political message?
Absolutely. Tailoring was impeccable as always, but this time Raymond, who has won the adoration of editors and buyers alike for his fantastic skill at bringing street wear and classic design together for a fresh take on menswear, blew the doors off. Although billed as ‘genderless’ the pieces betrayed the fact that Raymond has a deep understanding of the construction principles needed to make women’s wear flattering on the body. The pieces were everything a collection should be, fresh, innovative, cool and inspiring to see.
Did the pieces work inside of the political message?
And here it is, the difficult part to discuss. The short answer? Maybe. For the casual onlooker it is a tough sell. It's hard to imagine the Pyer Moss customer, who undoubtedly is not struggling in poverty, wearing a “greed” sweater and it not seeming a little grotesque. At the same time, Raymond has made career out of challenging norms, making bold statements, and never being fearful to say what he thinks needs to be said. To open the show Raymond had a spoken word artist make statements about the foibles of wealth obtained in sports and music with an audience filled with famous sports and music stars. He's not chicken, not even a little, and there is something so rare about that. Something that you can’t help but root for.
The final answer, how was the collection?
The pieces on their own were nothing short of great, one of the best shows of the week. The political message was strong and thought provoking. Will the wealthy Pyer Moss customers go for it? That is something no reviewer can predict. The only prediction that can be made, is that regardless of the sales outcome, Kerby Jean-Raymond will continue to soldier on, saying what he wants to say, and creating beautiful clothing; and that will be something amazing to behold.
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All images: Cynthia Anderson for Style Wylde.