Last night, New York fashion designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss used his Spring 2016 runway show to focus on a different, much darker and groundless trend making news headlines and sparking protests: The treatment of black men and women by the police.
His fashion show opened with ghastly videos of police violence—including the choking of Eric Garner, Marlon Brown being run over by a patrol car, and the overly aggressive use of force on the teenage girl at the Texas pool party—accompanied by a series of interviews and commentary, from fashion critic Robin Givhan, Usher, Emerald Garner (the daughter of Eric Garner), Nicole Bell (the fiance of Sean Bell), and fashion designer Mark Ecko. According to the AP, not everyone was open to his unconventional fashion statement and some fashion insiders opted out of attending. Jean-Raymond told the news organization:
"I'm black, I'm a designer, I'm living in a time when this is happening," he said. He added, "You're 28 years old, you're watching kids younger than you who are being killed by grown men who claim fear as an excuse."
Jean-Raymond almost decided not to show his clothes at all and just end the show after the mini-documentary was over, forcing his audience reflect. But like the "They Have Names" T-shirt he released last season, featuring the names of the victims of police violence, the clothes that he sent down the runway yesterday made a statement, with the help of contemporary artist Gregory Siff. There were Doc Marten-like boots with the names of police brutality victims, and splattered red paint resembling blood. A green military-style jacket with the words "Breathe, Breathe, Breathe," and boots with "I Can't Breathe" written all over them. A white laser-cut perforated jacket with a heart and red paint running down the back, also resembling blood.
Last season, at Chanel's Spring 2015 runway show, there was a staged feminist protest before the show ended; but that attempted statement felt like an empty capitalization off of the resurfacing of feminism. Jean-Raymond's approach came from a place of experience—according to The Huffington Post, the designer was stopped and frisked by the New York City police 12 times as a teenager—and the urge to make others aware. The Pyer Moss show might have made some attendees uncomfortable, but left a lasting impression on an issue that's continuing to affect black lives.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.