This season, Black creatives breathed new life into the former snooze-fest known as NYFW. Lebron James launched his history-making HFR x Nike collab, amputee model Mama Cax debuted at Chromat, Texture on the Runway celebrated the beauty of Black hair, and Rihanna is closing out the week with tonight’s Fenty Savage show.
But “American Also, Lesson 2″—Pyer Moss‘ triumphant presentation—left the kind of cultural impact to be felt for seasons to come. The second installation in designer Kerby Jean-Raymond‘s celebration of the African-American experience was an exploration of Blackness in the face of anti-Blackness.
On Sunday September 9th, Jean-Raymond—who spent his teens near “Vietnam,” a stretch of blocks in Brooklyn notorious for crime in the ’90s—staged his elaborate production near the streets that raised him. The fact that a-listers like Rita Ora flocked to a location often written off as “the hood” is a testament to the designer’s influence.
Since debuting five years ago, The 31-year old has continued to make waves with his statement-making collections, inking a major deal with Reebok last year. His SS19 lineup was inspired by the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for African-American roadtrippers published from 1936-1966. A response to violence and discrimination that Black drivers faced during the Jim Crow era, the guide provided a list of places where they would be safe.
“Part of what I want to do is highlight American designers who have not been considered designers because they are urban.”
Imagining a world free of the hatred, pain and racism that African-Americans have continually faced, Jean-Raymond created a utopian society with the Black Baptist church at its core. Set at the Weeksville Heritage Center—an historic site founded by African-American Freedmen—models walked a runway that transitioned from dirt road to wooden pathway.
Standing in front a pre-Civil War home, a 40-person choir belted out tunes by Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway in an homage to soul singers of the past. The message was clear. From a shirt that read: “Stop Calling 911 On The Culture” to a cumberbund with the words “See us now,” Jean-Raymond was calling out an industry that has continuously pimped out Black culture while ignoring its creators.
Additional standouts include clothing with the words “For Us, By Us,” created with legendary streetwear label FUBU. “Part of what I want to do is highlight American designers who have not been considered designers because they are urban,” said Jean-Raymond to The Hollywood Reporter. “Fubu was doing $200 million a year, similar to Donna Karan.”
Another notable collab featured clothing painted by artist Derrick Adams. Wearing silk pieces printed with images of the Black family, models were baptized in the pouring rain, while Wonder’s lyrics closed out the night: “Why must my color Black, make me a lesser man? I thought this world was made for every man, he loves us all, that’s what my God tells me, and I say it’s taken him so long, because we got so far to come…”
Take a closer look at the full collection below.