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For the Culture: Pyer Moss Goes All Out for their premiere Couture Collection: WAT U IZ

WAT U IZ is the first fashion show that continues to replay in my mind – it’s the kind of beauty and intentionality that makes you feel as if it had been a lifetime in the making. Each Pyer Moss production is an embodiment of Black celebration and WAT U IZ would be no different. The first history-making moment occurred when Pyer Moss creative director Kerby Jean-Raymond accepted the invitation to Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week, becoming the first Black designer to ever receive one. 

Their previous collection, American, Also combined three fashion shows and a documentary produced by the Pyer Moss team, all taking place at Brooklyn’s King Theatre, a venue that once strictly enforced a ban on African Americans. The collection was done in commemoration of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an originator of rock n’ roll. The watercolor designs featured were commissioned by Richard Phillips, a Black artist who had spent 45 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. 

Watercolor designs commissioned by Richard Phillips in honor of Sister Rosetta Tharpe from the collection ‘American, Also’ by Pyer Moss.

It’s because of this intentionality that you are forced to question the elitism of high fashion, the air of exclusivity and invisible tension that comes with being Black in a space that no one deems you worthy enough to be in. By uplifting artists and innovators, Pyer Moss defies the American narrative that seeks to erase Black creativity and innovation. 

From start to finish, Pyer Moss set out to break new ground with its’ premiere couture collection and that’s exactly what they did. 

Unbeknownst to all, the show day would be met with a sudden tropical storm, forcing the entire production to be pushed back 48 hours. Even as attendees faced storm Elsa head on, the love rang loudly through social media as guests checked in from the event. Nothing could dwindle the momentum that had been set; ducking for cover under tarps, guests smoked joints graciously handed out by Kerby, which he used as a soft announcement of his debut into the industry. The joint tubes carried a message: “We’re tired of waiting on reparations and an apology. Til then… we’re getting in the weed business.” 

Shortly after, Kerby took to Instagram to announce the cancellation due to the storm while also dropping the new date and a live streaming link for those unable to attend.

And now, on to my favorite fashion show of the year.

Villa Lewaro was the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.

The stage had been set within the courtyard of Villa Lewaro, a sprawling estate built in 1918 by one of the countries’ first Black millionaires, Madam CJ Walker, in Irvington, NY.

Former Black Panther activist Elaine Brown opened the show with a powerful and cathartic call to action. She prefaced her speech by stating the Black Panther Ten Point Plan, invoking the relevance and urgency of its mission today:

“We knew that the only way to find freedom in America was through revolutionary change. The very foundation of this country – this racist, capitalist, oppressive country – is the foundation of our oppression. So it all has to go. We want revolutionary change and we are the revolutionaries.”

As we fight for human rights and dignity during the largest social uprising of our lifetime, these words carried tremendous weight. It is not enough to simply know our history – we must continue paving the paths to greatness that our ancestors started. The importance of historical context to assess and investigate current systems has become increasingly more perceived. Elaine’s speech could not have come at a better time, setting the tone for what would be a monumental evening.

Flatbush rapper 22GZ was backed by the 80-person Pyer Moss Tabernacle Drip Choir Drenched in Blood, a full orchestra and conductor, an operatic staple of the lines’ fashion shows. Ceremony choreographed by Mayte Natalio
22GZ was backed by the 80-person Pyer Moss Tabernacle Drip Choir Drenched in Blood, a full orchestra and conductor, an operatic staple of the lines’ fashion shows. Ceremony choreographed by Mayte Natalio
22GZ was backed by the 80-person Pyer Moss Tabernacle Drip Choir Drenched in Blood, a full orchestra and conductor, an operatic staple of the lines’ fashion shows. Ceremony choreographed by Mayte Natalio

An ode to Black inventors, all twenty five looks were inspired by these contributions to everyday American life. From the A/C unit to the fire escape, to the modern day mop and even the invention of ice cream sprinkles, WAT U IZ was a lesson in lesser-known Black history.

Look 5 is inspired by a fabricated product, normally made of metal, although sometimes made partially or wholly of modern synthetic materials, designed to protect a horse hoof from wear. In 1892, Oscar Brown was issued the United States Patent No. 481, 271 for the improved ‘horseshoe’.
Look 8 is inspired by chess which is derived from ancient military strategy games invented by the Egyptians and, in its more modern form, popularized by 13th century Moors.
Look 12 is inspired by a machine that prints and adds figures; by the operation of a stylus – as exemplified in patents on typewriters granted to them in 1885 (U.S. patents #314996 and 315386). Invented by L. Burridge and N. Marshman.
Look 18 is inspired by patented improvements made to the fire escape ladder; by creating a foldable wagon mount for fire trucks which made it easier and faster to extinguish fire and save lives. The patent was granted in 1879 – U.S. patent #214224. In 1882, another patent was issued (U.S. patent #258186) for more improvements made so the fire escape ladder could be affixed to buildings. Invented by Joseph Winters.
Look 21 is inspired by a device that produces a high voltage from radiation sources, primarily gamma radiation with the proposed goal of generating auxiliary power from the shielding of a nuclear reactor. The pantent was granted in 1971 – U.S. patent#3591860. By 1973 Motorola used the patented technology to make the first public call from a cell phone. Invented by Henry Sampson.
Look 22 is inspired by a device used to cool rooms. It was created out of necessity during World War II as a solution to store blood serum for transfusions and medicines; making it possible to use in the military field hospitals and refrigerators for military field kitchens. The patent was granted in 1944 – U.S. patent #247584. As a result of this invention, countless lives were saved. Invented by Fredrick Jones.
Look 24 is inspired by an object that uses heat to wrap the hair around a cylinder shaped tube to curl the hair. The patent was granted in 1930 – U.S. patent #1772002. Invented by Solomon Harper. Hundreds of rollers were crafted and set by hand.

The final look was a message to the world at large – a refrigerator with magnets that spelled: “But who invented Black trauma?”

Look 25 is inspired by patented improvements made to the refrigerator by using a manually filled ice chamber for chilling; which revolutionized the modern kitchen. In 1879 and 1891, two African American inventors patented improved refrigerator designs in the United States – U.S. patent #221222 – U.S. patent #455891. Later, the inventor Fredrick Jones patented improvements for a more mobile and modern refrigerator.

Nearing the show’s end, Kerby Jean-Raymond called his team to the runway to receive the deserved applause. The collective energy literally transcended the screen – thousands of miles away in my apartment I felt my soul tingle. Following the show, criticism and dismissals of the line were drawn from the basis of complex rules for garment making under the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. But that’s where the intentionality comes full circle; Kerby’s work isn’t for couture – it’s for the culture.

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