When I received the personal invitation to “WHAT U IZ”, the Pyer Moss couture fashion show, I knew I was going to witness something historic and monumental. The show was held at Villa Lewaro, Madame C.J. Walker’s mansion in Irvington, New York. It was scheduled to occur on July 8, but was pushed back because of rain.
On July 8, a torrential downpour resulted in a three hour delay. I brought an umbrella with me to New York, but not to the venue. (Pride is the devil.) While attendees were soaked by continuous rain, we danced, drank, and ate the cookout foods that Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond provided for the show. At that moment, I felt a connection to the venue’s atmosphere. The air was thick with love, support, and care for Jean-Raymond and the Pyer Moss team. The support for Pyer Moss is deeper than fashion; it’s family.
Founded in 2013, Pyer Moss has solidified its stature in the fashion industry through its artistic designs, which pay reverence to the social and cultural contributions of Black communities. In 2018, Founder Kerby Jean-Raymond won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, one of the industry’s highest honors. His debut couture collection made him the first Black designer to present on the official haute couture schedule and the third American invited by Chamber Syndicale de la Couture, the governing body for the French fashion industry.
When I connected with Jean-Raymond at the cookout, he said,”My bad. I know you flew out here for this show.” I responded, “Bro, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be here for the show.” On July 10, the weather hinted a chance of rain, so I brought my umbrella. Shortly after I arrived, I realized my umbrella would be used for the shining bright sun, which established the tone for a gorgeous day. It was as if July 8 was a baptism for what was to come.
On the mansion’s grounds, strings from the Black band played beautifully in the background to prepare for Elaine Brown’s opening remarks. Brown, the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party, spoke on the importance of coming together as a whole community. Her powerful words emphasized the need to organize as a whole body, not segments, to bring forth true revolution. As she closed out, the show began, dancers took their place, and models emerged one by one.
The fashions paid tribute to Black inventors. Once the pieces of the show came together, I grew anxious to see the other Black inventions. Model Amira Pinheiro wore a beautiful, sunny yellow dress with a strappy heel and held the front of a Pyer Moss branded portable AC Unit. The choice of a sunny yellow color resembled hot summer days in New York. The dress’ flows told a story of cold air coming through my family’s AC unit as a child in the projects of South Brooklyn, waiting for the cold air to bring relief from the blazing unit. If you had a unit, you were considered well off. I love Jean-Raymond’s play on enlightening the audience while delivering beautiful made garments that I respected.
As one of the first Black designers invited by the Chamber Syndicale de la Couture, the Flatbush native chose the time to speak the good news of these untold inventors. Accented by the backdrop of Madame C.J. Walker’s mansion, the first Black woman millionaire in America, I was amazed at what unfolded. As a Haitian American designer myself, I left the show feeling empowered. To witness Jean-Raymond do his absolute thing on that stage opened doors for Black creatives like myself to walk into the endless possibilities that awaits us.
Everything happened the way it was supposed to.
As I headed back to Dallas, I said, “If we as Black people invented so many things back then with very little resources and huge obstacles, just IMAGINE what we can do in this day and age if we come together like Elaine Brown instructed us to do?” Thinking of our true potential, a verse kept repeating in my head, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor have entered into heart of man, the things God has prepared for those who love him.” The possibilities are endless.
Frere, thank you for this gem.
Venny Etienne is a Haitian American fashion designer, known for dressing stars like Niecy Nash and Cardi B. His designs were featured in Beyonce’s Black Is King film. He wrote this piece for FrontRow.