Why Kerby-Jean Raymond is the Most Important Designer in the World Right Now

Of all the Fall 2018 runway shows I attended at New York Fashion Week, the only show that felt truly necessary was Pyer Moss.

As I took my seat at Spring Studios, a live gospel choir dressed all in white began to sing a medley including “Nobody Knows All the Trouble I’ve Seen,” and my blood turned to chill as the song shifted, and the line, “Too many n****s on Rikers Island, why must it be,” rang out. I hadn’t expected to come to a fashion show expecting to have the racial disparities in incarceration statistics highlighted, but Pyer Moss’ choice to present a political message against the glitzy backdrop of a fashion show amounted to sheer brilliance. The choir, alongside the casting, which featured only POC models, presented such a triumphant message of Black pride that I was verklempt to see a show that didn’t pay lip service to diversity but embodied it in every aspect of the show.

Pyer Moss stood in opposition to that patent whiteness that tends to envelop fashion week – there was a visible difference in who attended the Pyer Moss show vs who attended other shows – and the show felt like a historic moment; a communion between the audience members, who all rose to give the brand a standing ovation at the show’s end.

Last night, Pyer Moss, an independent label founded in 2013 by the 31-year-old Black designer Kerby-Jean Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, a prize of $400,000. Previous winners include The Row, Proenza Schouler, and Alexander Wang; a rarefied group of designers who tend to achieve massive success post-win. This year’s runners-up were Bode, a menswear brand that repurposes antique quilts into boxy jackets and Jonathan Cohen, who designs playful, colourful womenswear, who each win $150,000.

Pyer Moss’ work focuses not only on dramatic silhouettes and artistic flourishes; it highlights racism, police brutality, incarceration and other issues faces disproportionately by marginalized communities. Raymond is doing work that no one else in the fashion industry can claim to be doing; producing amazing clothes that actually mean something. He’s a true vanguard and the most deserving player to win this award.

In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, Raymond said, “I don’t want to sound narcissistic at all, but I do believe that I am one of the thought leaders that have emerged in the past five years. Every industry had a person that led the march to modernizing the understanding of what black life is: In music, it was Solange. In television, it was “Insecure.” In sports, it was Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams. And in fashion, I don’t think there is another me.”

He’s right. And we’re lucky to have him.