I can’t remember when but sometime in the last decade I fell out of serious love with fashion. I still love it, but not as much as I did; the problems were too apparent, change was and still is slow in coming. Fashion that is mean to traverse boundaries was stagnated without room for movement at the top. It was a diversity problem, a size problem, a stale problem, a people problem. Too much of the old guard shouting down the new voices coming through the door. Desperate to hold on tight to their reins of power. Too much of the establishment wanting to over-establish their positions of power without progress.
There are some designers however, that come along and change the way fashion speaks to you. As a person, as a culture, to move things forward in a way that makes you believe they had you and only you in mind when they were creating their collections. Kerby Jean-Raymond is one of such designers for me. Whether he is creating a new sneaker or his RTW for his commercially avant garde label; Pyer Moss, he is unapologetically proud of his Blackness, our Blackness, the culture and the stories within it.
It rained on what was to be his debut couture show, so much so that after three hours, the show had to be postponed, but we would have waited for six hours if we had to, to witness this most anticipated show. But you know, your people will always show up for you, and even in that rain people sat, waited, hoped…some of us chose to see this as celestial blessings because the show was taking place in the mansion that belonged to Madam CJ Walker. Villa Lewaro, an Italianate villa designed by Verntner Tandy, the first African American registered in New York. This mansion was part of the show in every way possible.
WAT U IZ the title of this collection celebrated Black inventors and creators. A way to acknowledge our brilliance in a world that continues to stack the odds against or demand super human qualities from, us and insist we be thankful for that.
Elaine Brown the only female leader of the Black Panthers walked us down history lane as she walked the runway, opening the show with a speech that lauded the panthers and reminded us what they stood for, how far they brought us and how much farther we are willing to go from there. The clothes in their brilliance were almost besides the point because every part in this show was intentional in honing in a message for the present and future and reminding us of our past.
I say almost because the clothes are after all what we came to see, which is where Jean Raymond’s power shines through as a designer; his garments are more than just the fabric. This is the story he is telling, and the industry can either fall in step or fall out of line whilst looking out of touch doing so. He never folds on his vision a quality I most admire about him. His collections are layered in meaning; a sneaker is not simply a sneaker, the message is larger than footwear.
Take the lampshade dress: Look 23: a lilac gathered asymmetrical gown complete with lampshade and crystals; every house in my family had several crystal lamps and crystal curtains. This look was inspired by improvements made to the light bulb by introducing carbon filaments. Lampshades were a way to disguise harsh electric light. Inventor; Lewis Latimer. It was also easy for me to see this as a full on church outfit from the Mrs Church ladies on Sundays.
Look 24; as featured is inspired by Solomon Harper who invented an object that utilises heat to wrap the hair around a cylindrical object in an effort to curl the hair. This look brought back days at the hair dressers, sitting for time beneath the hair dryers. The headpiece was reminiscent of a Judge’s wig but this one even more exaggerated as it hit the floor with the giant rollers.
Or Look 25 a short cocktail number complete with fridge attached asking the question; But who invented Black trauma? This look was inspired by improvements mades to the refrigerator by inventor Frederick Jones.
My personal favourite was the gold mini dress made of metallic discs and topped with a lock head piece; the lock was invented by WA Martin an improvement on the bolt. I would wear this entire look from head to toe… as is.
Or Look 5, another favourite of mine inspired by Oscar Brown whose patent improved the horseshoe.
This was a show infused with meaning, deep meaning which is why we would have waited for however long we had to because we knew this was bigger than just clothes rolling down the runway. This was a story he needed to tell. Each look told the story of a Black inventor, there wasn’t a dress on the runway that did not force you to look up the name of the inventor behind the inspiration.
In terms of the classic couturier elements, this was couture at its wildest, challenging in what it can do and refreshing in what it reveals of a designer. This show was an ode to the heritage behind the meaning of couture, that bounty of expertise and vison but also a political statement and cultural awakening.
On Saturday when the sun shone and the clouds abated, our patience paid off in more ways than one.