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Jeneé Osterheldt

Reebok, Pyer Moss, and the gospel of black beauty at Fashion Week

Pyer Moss debuted Reebok by Pyer Moss Collections 3 and 3.5 at Kings Theater in Brooklyn.
Pyer Moss debuted Reebok by Pyer Moss Collections 3 and 3.5 at Kings Theater in Brooklyn.Maria Valentino

NEW YORK — We went to church at New York Fashion Week.

A congregation of 3,000 gathered in King’s Theater for “Sister,” the third collection in Kerby Jean-Raymond’s “American, Also” series by fashion label Pyer Moss.

The same way one goes to church to praise, to dance, to sing, to feel that release that faith can bring — they go to see a Pyer Moss show knowing their spirits will be fortified.

Jean-Raymond is no mere designer. He’s a storyteller dedicated to uncovering that which has been erased in the black American narrative.

With “Sister,” he brought Fashion Week to Flatbush, to the place he calls home. And for the third time, he brought Reebok to Fashion Week.

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The same Reebok headquartered in the Seaport, known for the iconic Pump, the Question, the Shaqnosis, and the timeless Freestyle Hi.

And now that brand is on the runways with black folk in mind
à la Reebok by Pyer Moss.

Reebok and Jean-Raymond have been collaborating since 2017. It’s a soulful partnership.

“So many companies take our ideas and sell it back to us as luxury and refuse to collaborate with us,” Jean-Raymond says. “It’s not dangerous, reaching back down and checking the pulse of the people around you who need the opportunities and wouldn’t necessarily get them. Reebok did it and you should do it. I wasn’t doing wild sales numbers, I wasn’t trending, I didn’t have any celebrity backing, I was speaking politics in my art and somebody at Reebok noticed. They saw the potential in that and took a chance.”

With Reebok, Jean-Raymond is creating collections celebrating black America.

Last year, the Reebok by Pyer Moss collection featured the words “As USA As U.” In these xenophobic times, it was a mantra. The pieces captivated tastemakers. Footwear News gave the Reebok and Pyer Moss duet the 2018 Collaboration of the Year Award.

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Jean-Raymond is showing the couture gatekeepers that black people are just as high fashion as they are.

As author Casey Gerald, who penned one of the most important essays of 2019, commanded at the opening show, “We are here tonight to claim our wings.”

On the runway, he reminded us of our ability to fly. That’s the power of Pyer Moss, too.

It means something to the little black boys and girls who grew up wearing sneakers and track suits that made them feel good, only to have the world deem them thugs, to see themselves on a runway at New York Fashion Week.

“There’s a whole black fashion ecosystem that exists because of and in spite of the mainstream fashion industry which steals as many dreams as it inspires,” writes Tanisha C. Ford, fashion historian, in her book “Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion.”

At New York Fashion Week, Jean-Raymond paid homage to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the black woman who created rock ’n’ roll. Even the sneaker, the Reebok by Pyer Moss Experiment 4 — created in collaboration with Reebok shoe designer Evan Belforti — had her in mind with its guitar-like curves and bold colors.

“We started the design process by discussing his collection and the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the godmother of rock ’n’ roll, and how we could connect that story to Reebok and Pyer Moss,” Belforti says. “From then on, all material, design, and conceptual research revolved around the birth of rock ’n’ roll and how this silhouette could reflect something sacred yet secular.”

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Jean-Raymond considers his work equal parts art project and social experiment. He also collaborated with Richard Phillips, the black Michigan artist who was wrongfully imprisoned for some 45 years. He created paintings to be printed on some of the fabrics Jean-Raymond used.

With each fashion show, Jean-Raymond pays homage to a black streetwear designer. This year, it was Sean John, founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs — the first black designer to win a Council of Fashion Designers of America award.

And like Diddy, Jean-Raymond is making a name for himself.

Last year, Jean-Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, taking home $400,000.

Last week, he became one of the newest members of the CFDA Board of Directors.

In July, Reebok announced Jean-Raymond as the artistic director of the new Reebok Studies__, a designer incubator to foster young talent.

“What really stands out about Kerby, beyond his talent and creative vision, is that his work has a purpose far beyond the products themselves,” says Kelly Hibler, vice president of Reebok Classic.

Kerby Jean-Raymond.
Kerby Jean-Raymond.Handout/Reebok

“We share this bold, unapologetic mentality. Together, we believe we can create a larger conversation around the positive impact the fashion and footwear industry can have on our culture.”

Jean-Raymond stands for access. The show was not invite-only; he opened it up to everyone.

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As the runway filled with models, the Pyer Moss Tabernacle Drip Choir Drenched in the Blood sang the gospel song “Make Me Over,” Donny Hathaway’s “Little Ghetto Boy,” Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” and also broke into Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and Cardi B’s “Money.”

Caleb McLaughlin of “Stranger Things” opened the Reebok by Pyer Moss showing, head high, big king energy, in a peach cropped puffer jacket with oversize sleeves, a chic remix of a white button down, and white track pants with exposed peach socks and the Pyer Moss Experiment 4 in mustard, salmon, and black.

On that runway, we were our collective black and beautiful self. There were signed models and celebrities. But there were round-the-way girls, too. On Instagram, Pyer Moss sent out an open casting right there in East Flatbush.

“This is a dream come true, a cultural moment, a New York moment, and that’s what he gave to me,” said Lyric Wills, a leggy young queen from Queens selected among the 600 models in the audition line. “We treat access like a privilege and it’s not a privilege anymore with him. We can all have the opportunity.”

In an oversize yellow Reebok by Pyer Moss blazer with matching skirt, purple Pyer Moss and Reebok logos blazing, she was every little black girl who wished on a Disney princess star.

On some Pyer Moss by Reebok pieces, there is a Sankofa bird. Sankofa, an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, means “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

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This is the way of Jean-Raymond — to recognize our roots for a brighter future.

“What’s so powerful about Kerby’s work and his intervention is Kerby doesn’t do anything without intention,” Gerald says. “And his intention is not so much to disrupt the narrative but to restore the narrative that is implanted in black people, not the narrative of white people or white supremacy but the narrative that does not see streetwear as something less than. Kerby is holding a very important space to remind us who we have been despite what the dominant culture and the supremacist culture would have us believe about ourselves.”

With Pyer Moss, we are made over on the runway. We are fly. We can fly. We are free.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com.