(Originally published on The Lancer).
A particular topic I have been lately fascinated by is modern fashion: my favorite designers are currently Ava Nirui (Heaven by Marc Jacobs), Dingyun Zhang (Yeezy), and Cynthia Lu (Cactus Plant Flea Market). But a specific collection that caught my eye earlier this year was Pyer Moss Couture 1 by Black designer Kerby Jean-Raymond.
Designer fashion has historically been dominated by wealthy white Europeans. Recently, however, the designer community has become more diverse. A primary example of this is Virgil Abloh’s entry into Louis Vuitton in 2018, as he is the first African American to be an artistic director at a French luxury fashion house. Abloh’s influence is monumental in combining American street culture with high fashion, bringing streetwear to the mainstream. In the same vein, Pyer Moss’s Couture 1 continues to break barriers with its revolutionary portrayal of Black history through art.
Couture 1, titled “WAT U IZ”, spotlighted the inventions and innovations that Black people have contributed to modern everyday life. Jean-Raymond explained in a FootwearNews interview, “I found this list in the U.S. Library of Congress of inventions by Black people, and I went through it and I didn’t know any of this stuff. I started asking others, nobody knew. These are inventions by Black people and I wanted to reintroduce them to Black people, reversing the erasure that may exist.” Couture 1 features various creative interpretations: a model dressed as a refrigerator with rainbow magnet letters spelling “But who invented black trauma?”, a model covered in hundreds of hair curlers from head to toe, and a model dressed as a bright pink, jeweled lampshade, and so on.
This collection broke the internet—my social media feeds were reeling with joy at the brilliance of Jean-Raymond’s ideas. As put by Najma Sharif from The Popular Times, “Jean-Raymond could have posted a list of Black inventions on his Instagram without putting them in a fashion show. But that is not what he did. He sent them down the runway of the most exclusive space in luxury: couture.”
Everyday, I’m inspired by what I see other designers do on the internet, especially this collection, which will always stick with me. In fact, it made me truly realize the power of avant-garde anti-fashion. Pyer Moss Couture 1 designs are not meant to be worn outside of the runway, but their social impact extends infinitely.
Anti-fashion is an acquired taste: most people cannot immediately see its artistic value. One of my favorite examples is Commes Des Garçons’ 1997 Spring/Summer Collection. Officially titled “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body,” the collection, designed by Rei Kawakubo, illustrates the relationship between clothing and the body. Rather than shaping the clothing to fit the body, Rei’s designs distort the shapes of the bodies they are on. Using tubelike gingham dresses stuffed with down pillows, Rei transformed human bodies into something grotesque, exaggerating parts of the body that are often considered undesirable or overly sexualized. Though it received harsh criticism in 1997, this collection is infamous in the fashion community for its powerful, ironic commentary on fashion trends that sexualize female bodies.
These collections made me realize that fashion is not always just about what looks good—it is a deeply thoughtful form of art with multiple layers. What Rei Kawakubo and Kerby Jean-Raymond have done for high fashion is monumental, transforming the runway world into an avenue of social commentary through the unconventional.
Art by Matthew Tran.