When Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder of Pyer Moss, was growing up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, he worked after school at a sneaker store called Ragga Muffin, where nearly everyone he knew enjoyed themselves. For four years, from age 13 to 17, he walked home from the store in front of a billboard that towered over Flatbush Avenue, advertising services such as divorce assistance and class action lawyers.
“That’s what people expect in this neighborhood,” he said recently. But Mr. Jean-Raymond has built his company on high expectations: what a luxury brand looks like, what it can represent (and who) and where it can come from. He couldn’t see why the larger signage of his childhood center should be any different.
So he decided to change the image.
Next month, the billboard, photographed by longtime collaborator Shikeith, will host the first large-scale advertisement for Mr. Jean-Raymond’s first full line of women’s shoes and handbags. It’s also her first real foray into ready-to-wear other than sneakers for Pyer Moss since her last show at New York Fashion Week in September 2019, held just down the street at the Kings. Theatre. And, as the 10th anniversary of the company looms in 2023, it is an effort to forge a real business to exist alongside shows that have become famous as political theater disguised as fashion collections.
“It’s an experience,” Mr. Jean-Raymond said, both of the billboard and of the bags and shoes. “I realized we couldn’t be just entertainment.”
As he spoke, he drove around East Flatbush in a large custom-built black Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV (one of his seven cars), pointing out childhood landmarks: PS 181, where he went to l ‘school ; the three-story brick building where he grew up; the cemetery where friends were buried. In 2020 he moved into his first home, on the Columbia Street waterfront in Brooklyn, and during the pandemic he moved his father out of the family apartment, first to Long Island and then to Florida. But he still considers East Flatbush his community.
“Bottega Veneta sells clothes and does shows,” said Mr. Jean-Raymond, 35. “Chanel sells clothes and puts on shows. Pyer Moss was known for his shows, but people are going to get their basics somewhere, so they should be able to get them from us.
He just took a somewhat roundabout way to come to this conclusion.
The problem, he said, was that the shows that made his name — which helped him win a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund award and be named Reebok’s global creative director — were a trilogy created in response to what he saw happening in the world around him – an effort to put black contributions to culture and history back at the center of the conversation.
Collection 1, for example, in February 2018, centered on the black cowboy; the second, the following September, imagined a black leisure class without fear of police violence; and the Kings Theater show was inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose gospel recordings influenced early rock ‘n’ roll musicians.
But then, between 2020 and now, things started changing so fast that by the time he finished a collection, he said, “the world was completely different. I started Collection 4 six times and I gave it up six times.
In the midst of it all, he co-founded a company aimed at supporting young designers called Your Friends in New York and hosted a couture show that doubled as a Hall of Fame of Black inventions but wasn’t really commercial. . (Nor was it, some people say, exactly couture; Mr. Jean-Raymond called it “a coup.”)
Then two deaths – an uncle and a good friend – quickly sent him to a “dark place”. In early 2022, he had quit his job at Reebokunhappy after the company was sold to new owners, and flirted with various creative directions, but not seriously.
He also discovered the Hoffmann process, a seven-day intensive retreat billed as a way to “become aware of and disconnect from negative emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual thought patterns and behaviors,” and talk therapy. He learned, he says, “to stop caring so much about what people think.” He stopped worrying about people seeing props as pandering to commerce or betraying his first principles.
“I spent so many years trying to keep the brand from being categorized as what it wasn’t,” he said, referring to attempts to categorize his work as streetwear rather than , as he insisted, as luxury. Now he is less concerned with external distinctions.
“I feel like a designer again,” he said. Unlike, say, a performance artist.
The accessories are made in Italy, in factories that also work with Kering, the parent company of Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. (Francesca Bellettini, the general manager of YSL, whom Mr. Jean-Raymond calls his “fairy godmother”, put him in touch.)
The bags come in three styles: an aerodynamically blown trapezoidal shape on one side; a hand reminiscent of both an opera fan and a palm drawn on paper; and a combination of the two with a pair of cartoon-like hands joined in the front. The last one was created for one of the collections that never happened. (It was supposed to be called “Togetherness” and was about post-Covid socializing, back when “post-Covid” seemed like a possibility.)
Each style is available in different sizes, and in black or bright yellow; other colors will come later. The shoes, which also come in red, have a bulbous heel, as if Play-Doh had been squeezed through an hourglass. There is a gladiator sandal version with high heels that go up the calf and ankle boots or flexible sock-like thigh boots. There are also mules with padded straps and a sculpted block heel in Jolly Rancher-like material, for good vibes. Plus wallets and key rings.
Everything will be sold directly on PyerMoss.com in drops, with items priced between $200 (for small leather goods) and $1,800 (for larger bags). It’s expensive, but less than if regular retail markups were added. Plus, he said, his Sculpt sneaker cost $600 and sold out.
The plan is to roll out more low-key product collections, which, like bags and shoes, will exist independently of the runways. Mr Jean-Raymond has hired Andre Walker, a former New York Fashion Week name who grew up next to him in Ditmas Park as a designer. The two are working on developing brand codes for ready-to-wear, which (where applicable) will be made from sustainable fabrics.
And another show is coming, but when and where are unclear. Although it might be wrong to call it a show, said Jean-Raymond, who once wrote the music for it. It will be more like “an experience”.
“It will probably be in the next few weeks,” he said. Or maybe not.
“I might not even tell anyone when it happens,” he said. “I want to do something special for our 10th anniversary, but maybe the special thing I can do is finally sell clothes.”