Purple Magazine
— The Brain Issue #33

pyer moss by olivier zahm

pyer moss —> KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM and SAVANNAH NOLAN
photography by KIRA BUNSE
style by LAËTITIA GIMENEZ

a young brooklyn-born designer
electrifying the runways by reclaiming
the african-american contribution to the history of american fashion

 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where does the name “Pyer Moss” come from?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — The brand was named after my mom. Her name was Vania Moss-Pierre, but I changed Pierre to the Haitian phonetic spelling, which is P-Y-E-R.

OLIVIER ZAHM — She died when you were young?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I was seven.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was your family in a difficult situation when your mom died?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah. I mean, my father was young. My mom died when she was 34.

OLIVIER ZAHM — An accident?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I don’t know all the details — it was an accident in Haiti. She went to go visit her mom, and she didn’t come back.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was growing up in Brooklyn in the ’90s like?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I grew up in a very sheltered community — a very closed community that was all West Indian people. I grew up with Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese, and
Hasidic Jewish people. I didn’t see too many people outside of those cultures. The Hasidic Jewish people didn’t really live in our neighborhood — they lived in Crown Heights or in Ocean Parkway, but they owned all the businesses in our neighborhood, so that’s how I saw them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And they’re very isolated in the way they stay among themselves?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah, one of my first jobs was working at a store in Flatbush called Ragga Muffin that was owned by Hasidic Jews, so I got to learn a lot about their culture. I learned how to speak Hebrew…

OLIVIER ZAHM — No way!
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — [Says some phrases in Hebrew] But that was because of those guys. They were really good. They were like family. Growing up in Flatbush was not unlike any other neighborhood in Brooklyn at the time, in the ’90s — everything was a little rough, you know? People did their best with what they could.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was there a strong sense of community?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — There was a sense of community, but then there was also the violence, gangs, and issues with the police that I had to grow up around. But I was blessed to have such a strong community. I felt like I had multiple parents because everybody in the neighborhood was your parent, you know? You do something stupid, and the old lady down the block sees you. So, it was a very interesting upbringing.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — Were you into fashion from a very young age?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I wasn’t. I was always into sneakers. At 13, when it was time for me to go to high school, I went to the High School of Fashion Industries. And the way I found that school — and the reason why I chose that school — was because it had a shoe and accessories program. And I wanted to be a sneaker designer because that’s what I was really into. When I got into the school, a new board came in, and they cut the program that I was in.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — Great! Sounds like an accurate depiction of the NYC public school system. [Laughs]
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — So, they put me in fashion design instead. But that first year of school, I wasn’t really paying attention because
I didn’t want to be doing that. I had in my mind that after the first year, I was going to switch high schools. I was going to go to a school called Automotive — because my other passion was cars. I was going to go to Automotive and learn how to fix and build cars, and that was that. But then, during the first year, I misbehaved in one of the classrooms and almost got suspended from school, and the teacher essentially gave me the option to either get suspended or take an internship. And today is the 18th anniversary of my starting that internship and of my first job in fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’re already an old professional?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I started school in 2000, and this was 2001. So, 18 years ago.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — And you started your company in 2013?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I star­ted working on Pyer Moss at the end of 2012, but we launched it in 2013.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It seems to my generation that your generation has no fear. They have no problem having a political message and artistic message at the same time. Do you agree with that?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I wouldn’t say my generation has no fear. There are definitely fears and concerns around the gatekeepers, and I think that the issues that we’re seeing are just a bit too vast. Like the issues that are going to affect our children and this generation are too overwhelming to ignore. You know, you’re dealing with rampant racism, climate change, gender inequality, discrimination against the LGBTQ community — all these different things. And I think that what we did, we set a precedent where we decided that we were going to use fashion the way any artist would use a canvas, a painting, or a sculpture: this is going to be our medium, this is how we’re going to communicate. And that’s what I’ve been doing since I had my first brand — it was called Mary’s Jungle, back in, like, 2002.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, fashion can be a medium like music or painting?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Definitely.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s beyond commerce. It’s not that you don’t care about being successful, but you also care about having something to say.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Right. Because if not, then it’s not worth it for me. There are other things you can do for money that are easier.
I don’t want anything I do to be ordinary or disposable. I feel like we’re doing something that’s worth remembering, worth talking about, worth keeping mementos of, worth archiving. So, those are the principles that I operate on. It’s like creating something that’s worth the space.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you find this idea of integrating the paintings of Richard Phillips? I’d never heard of this painter, I didn’t know his story. How did you find him?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — We were here in Paris, actually. We were in a car, and I was just reading the news like I normally do, and I came across a story. It said, “This man is being exonerated after being kept in prison for almost 47 years for a murder that he didn’t commit.” He always proclaimed his innocence. And DNA evidence freed him. And in his post-prison interview, they were talking about what kept him sane, and he was like,
“I love to paint.” So, I was just like, “Let’s find him and see what his paintings look like and see if we can commission him.” And that’s what we did. I reached out to him in January.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — And you met him?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah, he came to the show. We flew out to Detroit to meet him, film him, and get his story. He uses watercolors.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A very simple and inexpensive medium.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah, it’s also what’s available in prison. I wanted to make sure that we were in a position to develop something with him and also to pay him, you know? But when I heard his story a while back, I was like, “Damn, can you imagine going to jail now for 47 years?”

SAVANNAH NOLAN — It’s a whole lifetime. How does a human being recover from that?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I don’t even know. It’s difficult for him. He has a positive outlook. But you miss out on your kids growing up… I can’t imagine. It’s like dying and coming back.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — There’s extreme political tension that exists in the United States right now regarding racism, police violence, discrimination — all these topics. The problems are deep-rooted and have always existed, but now it’s finally become a mainstream discussion, and it’s causing tension that you can see and feel everywhere you go. Does it change or seem any different when you come to France?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I think that it does feel different, for sure. For the weeks that I’m here, ignorance is bliss. I don’t feel as triggered. Europe has its own issues, too. Look at what’s happening in the UK, and just with the EU in general. How refugees from Syria are being treated.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They stay on boats and drift around for days.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Right. Before any Coast Guard even reaches out to them. And sometimes they die in the water. So, it has its fair share of problems. But I’m human and, at the end of the day, everybody’s plight or struggle or whatever does affect me to some degree. And I do notice that there’s a lack of diversity in many places. Especially in Paris. But again, I haven’t decided to take on those problems yet, the way that I’ve been taking them on in America. It does feel a little bit less encapsulating.

SAVANNAH NOLAN — Compared with New York, there’s an obvious lack of diversity in the fashion industry here.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — For sure — a big difference. At least it’s a conversation in America. It’s known and accepted. And I think the brands that have tried diversity here do it because they think it’s trendy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Exactly.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — So, there hasn’t been a concerted effort. It’s not like, “Okay, we want equality.” It’s like, “Oh, they’re doing it in America, they’re making money, let’s…”

SAVANNAH NOLAN — What do you think can change that mind-set?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — You get a few powerful guys who can open up doors here. That could be a start. I noticed that Olivier Rousteing’s film was backed by the French government. I think that’s a step in the right direction. It shows, “Yes, this is a black man, and this is what’s possible for you in France.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you get out of being in Paris? It’s so different from Brooklyn.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Paris is the best city to walk around in. I go from the 10th [arrondissement] to the 3rd to the 1st, and back over to Belleville. I just walk everywhere here because there’s so much to take in — beautiful architecture. But you notice another thing, too: Paris as a city has set up a lot of things that you can do for free. I went to the Tuileries, across the street from my hotel, and just sat by the water — and just looked, you know? It feels like it’s okay to just sit and observe.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And relax?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah, it’s a lot more relaxed, and okay to just explore.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel part of a new generation?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah. Because I completely left the other generation. I have nothing to do with it. Whatever anybody else is doing is none of my concern. I’m creating a whole shadow industry.

OLIVIER ZAHM — For yourself?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — For myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are there any designers whom you look up to?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Design-wise?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, design-wise.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I have some. I’m still a fashion geek, right? There are designers that I look at. Every time I come here, I go to Rick Owens’s show. I go to Yohji Yamamoto shows. Dries Van Noten, Margiela… Valentino now, because he [Pierpaolo Piccioli] is on fire. In America, there’s Telfar Clemens… There are people who are doing amazing things, but I’m not inspired by anybody. It’s not to say that they’re not inspiring. It’s just that I don’t look at it. I don’t even look at pictures when I design. I read. I have a very different process in that way. I’ve never looked at a picture or something and said, “Oh, I’m going to reference it and create this silhouette based on that.” So everything is kind of like starting from scratch.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you deal with social media? Do you think it’s affecting the way we see society and the way we interact or communicate — for better or worse?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — I think it’s a little bit of both, right? The good part of it is that social media is the new telephone. It’s the new e-mail, and we have to accept it. It’s not going to go anywhere — we have to change. The way that our parents had to adapt to the smartphone, and to e-mail and text messaging. We have to adapt to social media and accept it as a norm. That’s the new business card. That’s the be-all and end-all of it. If Instagram goes away, there’ll be another Instagram. It’s not going away. They’re only going to become more and more part of our lives. But the way that we use it is unhealthy. We haven’t figured it out yet — comparison is the death of happiness. So all you do on social media, and the way it’s designed — it’s designed to look at accomplishments and reward them with a like. But now there’s an absence of intimacy, right? So, people think that going to your page and liking your picture, or liking three of them in a row, is the same as calling you and saying, “Hey, how do you feel?” And that’s not the same.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s creating a hypercompetitive mind-set.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Yeah. You’re competing with your quote-unquote friends, your followers. Now everybody’s got this god complex. Myspace was great because everybody was your friend. Now it’s your followers.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you don’t care so much yourself?
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — It’s a business tool for me. If I’m dating, I still go up to girls on the street. I’m not using it in that way. Like I said, because of the absence of intimacy, we’re seeing more mass shootings, child suicides, cyberbullying, cancel culture, and all these groupthink movements. It’s stemming from social media because the physical absence creates a false intimacy. It’s like everybody thinks they’re friends. And, you know, somebody tweets one thing that’s stupid and is unresearched, and the other person will tweet it — and then it’s fucking viral, and then it becomes a fact. So now, what’s the difference between fact and fiction?

OLIVIER ZAHM — We are lost.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Fact and fiction, the only difference is who retweeted it most, right? Even when you’re a designer. If you’re a small designer and you have 500 followers and you’re doing amazing shit, and another designer with a million followers comes and copies your shit, what’s fact? Them or you?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Everyone loses.
KERBY JEAN-RAYMOND — Groupthink is just dangerous. And being a small independent designer, I’ve had to deal with this multiple times, with big brands taking my creations and calling them their own. I mean, I’m dealing with it today — literally today.

END

Lisa Marleen Mueller,  photographer’s assistant — Nicole Atieno, model 

[Table of contents]

The Brain Issue #33

Table of contents

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