Pyer Moss Creates a Patriotic Space for Black Americans
What does patriotism mean for the Black community?
In Trump’s America, the resurgence of patriotism has filled the country with deep feelings of ownership and varying perceptions of what being American truly means. Trump’s election was reliant on the theme of patriotism in order to succeed - his slogan was a nostalgic but forceful call to action that idealized the past and villainized the present. However, Trump’s version of patriotism has arguably catalyzed a wave of white supremacy and overt racism, leaving no space for the Black community to even breathe, let alone consider what patriotism means for them. Simply put, there are too many people dying to begin wearing their race and culture with pride rather than deep fear and anger.
In the midst of it all, Kerby Jean-Raymond has been fusing the personal and political in his incredibly influential and theatrical brand, Pyer Moss, which builds a narrative through fashion based on heritage and activism. He actively holds a mirror up to Black culture and the Black community, describing his work as a representation of the people. His attempt to understand what patriotism means and looks like for Black people is a major theme in his collections, which are presented in the same manner of a thesis. This is clearly and purposefully juxtaposed with the fact that patriotism has historically been a phenomenon of colonizers and oppressors.
With depth and intricacy, Kerby Jean-Raymond displays facets of American culture that actually have their roots in Black culture, proving patriotism can and should exist in spaces not occupied by the white majority. One of his most recent collections was aimed to “bring light to the unfrequented story of black cowboys from the 19th century” - challenging instilled whitewashed perceptions of history. Through his avant-garde shows and collections, he proves that patriotism in the Black community is justified and necessary, but never encouraged by major players in the fashion industry.
As a teenager, Jean-Raymond was talking about Black Lives Matter before people even understood what the movement meant. He designed a t-shirt collection centered around the victims of police brutality, but strayed from activism in fashion for a period in his career, criticizing the focus on his race rather than his creative vision. However, with the founding of Pyer Moss, this designer has embraced the political in order to create artistry in meaningful spaces, resonating with and representing the community of young Black artists. He rejects the label of streetwear - arguing it’s a term meant to keep young Black designers in a box - in favor of art collective.
In addition to his collections, Kerby Jean-Raymond also creates documentaries and short films which are displayed on his website, and are also a facet of his runway shows. In this way, he makes politics and fashion even more theatrical than a typical runway show, creating a visceral reaction for audience members and consumers worldwide. One of his most noted documentaries was a compilation of interviews with families who have lost loved ones in the face of police brutality, laced with the analysis of a lack of empathy towards Black citizens in America.
Thus, Pyer Moss provides a platform for Black stories and culture to be at the center of the vision, rather than sprinkled in for an element of diversity and inclusion. Jean-Raymond subverts our perceptions of patriotism and gives it a positive connotation, in the era of Trump, for the Black community and Black artists to embrace.