Kerby Jean-Raymond by Tom Vogel
Creativity is the most personal thing. It comes from an individual state of mind, with each person’s output tied to their own memories, experiences and thoughts. As such, a young creative’s studio is often an extension of their work; spaces where they are free to explore, imagine and create stuff that defines, and is defined by them.
In our series, Studio Visits, we document these spaces via interviews and photographs offering a digital journey into their worlds, capturing their favourite foods, fabrics, and latest playlist additions without a filter. Think of this as an open invitation to come along.
The designer whose sweatshirts once carried slogans such as “Acid. Booze. Molly. LSD” and “You don’t have any friends in LA,” is turning inwards to trace the history of his own family as well as comment on the current sociopolitical climate in the US. It’s hard not to.
You might have spotted Pyer Moss, the label run by Kerby Jean-Raymond, on our pages before. Earlier this year, we talked about their FW17 campaign, a fantasy world that paid tribute to Kerby’s immigrant father’s life. Or, perhaps you have spotted his garments on the likes of Erykah Badu, Vic Mensa, or Kari Faux.
Kerby founded Pyer Moss in 2013, at first experimenting with classic athletic gear and sports uniforms. Subsequent collections focused on science fiction films, textbooks and 90s hip-hop culture.
The brand has continued to redefine itself every season, incorporating narratives that seek to provoke debate in a tasteful yet impactful manner, which turned out to be enough to catch the eyes of Todd Krinsky, general manager of Reebok Classic, who invited Kerby to start a partnership with Reebok. Consisting of two instalments, part of the project will be unveiled at New York Fashion Week in February.
Produced in Italy and the US, his creations reflect the dynamic energy of New York City, resulting in largely-monochrome pan-seasonal pieces with bold prints, oversized silhouettes and longevity in mind. Today, the New York-born and bred designer describes the brand as an “art project” and “a timely social experiment” that explores themes such as police brutality and mental health from a profoundly personal angle.
We stopped by the label’s new space in Chelsea not only to hear about the reasons behind Kerby’s recent move and his upcoming womenswear debut, but also to have a snoop around his design space.
Kerby Jean-Raymond by Tom Vogel
Undine Markus: What was your rationale behind moving to a new space? What are you looking for when choosing a space for a studio?
Kerby Jean-Raymond: I started my career in the industry working in the Garment District. My first job was on 38th, between 7th and 8th Avenue. When I first started Pyer Moss we were on 37th, between 7th and Broadway, then 36th, between 7th and Broadway. You can like taste the pollution there, it’s so congested… the air is thick, it’s dark because the buildings are tall and the streets narrow, so you really get no sunlight. We were up on the top floor and there was only one room that got light. It was really depressing. I think that kind of starts to show in the work. When I started to look for a new studio, I started in Chelsea. I wanted to be in the twenties or the teens. I wanted to have a private elevator and a lot of natural light. Now, we have a skylight, which is something I’ve always wanted. We also have proximity to FIT [The Fashion Institute of Technology], which is really cool because you can go outside and essentially see your target market. You know, we haven’t decorated yet and we haven’t brought in any furniture yet, so you’re seeing it in its raw state. I’m curious to see what we end up doing with it, but I have an interior designer coming in and at that point I’ll figure out whether we’re going to try to create more of a maze within the space.
Undine: And what are you thinking of doing with sound?
Kerby: Actually, [laughs] it’s funny because that’s what I’m online doing right now. I’m actually going on Sonos, I want to get like the wireless speakers and put them up in the corners. Then, get a subwoofer in the middle of the space in between the plants ’cause I would love to see the plants move.
Undine: So how did you first get into fashion?
Kerby: I went to the High School of Fashion Industries when I was thirteen. I always wanted to be a sneaker designer, my dream job was to work at Nike and design for, weirdly enough, not Michael Jordan but Dennis Rodman. Dennis Rodman had the best sneakers at the time and it’s still one of my favourites to this day. It’s called Nike Air Worm, it’s a low-top sneaker and the first sneaker I ever saw with a zipper and it was so much like my style. That was my first inspiration to actually go into fashion. I started to develop an admiration for Tinker Hatfield who created the original Air Max design. Recently we became friends and it’s funny how life goes full circle. In New York City, we get these directories, like a catalogue of all the public high schools. It would show you all the stats of the high school, how many girls went there, how many boys went there, what programmes they offered. I landed on the page of High School of Fashion Industries, at the time they had a shoemaking and jewellery programme. Of the 1800 students, 77 percent of them were girls. I was like, “Oh great I have a better chance of getting a girlfriend here, plus I have [laughs] the shoe programme.” It was a no-brainer. I went there and on my first day of school they put me into the Fashion Design programme.
Undine: Where was that?
Kerby: Chelsea, Manhattan yeah, this is three blocks this way. So, they ended up putting me in the Fashion Design programme because they cut the jewellery and shoemaking programme. In my first year I was making baby dresses and was miserable, like completely miserable.
Undine: So was that the first thing you designed?
Kerby: That was the first thing, a baby romper made out of M&M’s fabric… it was M&M’s printed fabric with the candy.
Undine: Do you have photos of your early designs or anything?
Kerby: [Laughs] I don’t. My father probably does somewhere, my father is a hoarder he never throws out anything. But yeah, the first year of high school was pretty miserable so I started to become really disruptive. One day there was this kid that I didn’t like in the classroom, so I took a jug of WhiteOut that I had, threw it across the room and hit him in the head. I didn’t want to be in the school anymore. I already had my mind fixed to transfer to an automotive high school, ’cause my other love has always been cars. My teacher sent me downstairs to the principal’s office, essentially to get suspended. When I went downstairs, the dean was like, “You’re gonna get suspended this is not a joke” and she started to tell me how serious this was going to be. I started thinking about my father’s reaction and started to plead my case. I said that I was so bored and that I wanted to be in this programme and they put me in this other programme without even asking me. She was like, “You should go upstairs and tell your teacher that.” So I went upstairs and told the teacher. My teacher and I spoke for a little bit and then she told me that she would essentially get me an internship. She paired me with her roommate who got me an internship at fourteen years old at Kay Unger New York. Kay Unger asked me to come in to sort the file cabinets or something on the weekends, it was like little bitch work and I ended up doing it because I just didn’t wanna get in trouble. She started splitting her lunch with me, we got talking and this woman was a very well established person at the time, dressing Oprah and Hillary Clinton. She just took a liking to me, this fourteen-year-old kid who was like the only black kid in the office, the only black person in the office. Long story short, I became her apprentice very soon and then she was helping to start Marchesa because she was doing Harvey Weinstein a favour and she put me as the lead designer on a Marchesa project. The rest was history.
Undine: Did that enable you to start travelling for work a lot?
Kerby: Yeah, I travel a lot now. We just came back from Shanghai where we signed a new deal. We’re working on two collections for Reebok. I just had to get a new passport because my other one was filled up. I think that’s one of the coolest things about travelling with the perspective of like…
Undine: Advancing your work?
Kerby: Yeah, just looking at people, I look at people differently now. I look at people as like canvases.
Undine: What has been your favourite trip of the year? Or the most informative?
Kerby: Shanghai. I saw someone shitting on the street and I was like… this is something else. I was disgusted but also mesmerised. Havana and Moscow were really dope too though.
Undine: From your SS18 I kind of gathered that you’ve been globetrotting. Just the fact that you use so many different fabrics in the sense that… you can wear it in any climate and context.
Kerby: It’s very important that we do that now. The climate is just so unpredictable that I’m like screaming at these guys about outerwear. There’s way too many coats we need to make for the people in LA who have ninety degree Christmas’s and people in Moscow who have negative thirty, so that everyone can embrace the collection at all times of the year.
Undine: What were the types of fabrics that you tried to focus on in your last collection?
Kerby: The last collection I showed on the runway was the FW17 with Gro [Curtis, HERO Fashion Director]. We were recreating things that my dad wore in the eighties and the nineties. It was essentially like retelling his life story. I was really just kind of recreating his life from pictures. It was a lot of leisure suits and a lot of gold jewellery, things with fur on the inside ’cause he came from Haiti. When he came here, it was sixty or seventy degrees and he thought that was cold so he would [laughs] bundle up. I think that weirdness and not understanding the climate fully was very important to the show… like how an immigrant views America and tries to assimilate into the culture.
Undine: What are the themes that you’re researching now?
Kerby: The American cowboy, which, as we found out, has more to do with black culture than it does with white American culture. Cowboy is a racial slur and it was used to describe black men who worked on the field because it wasn’t normal in society to call a black man ‘a man’, so you would call him a boy… so a houseboy, a field boy, a motor boy. Our collection’s going to be very reminiscent of what that meant. It takes me like two to three weeks to put together a men’s collection, but we’ve been working on the women’s collection since the beginning of August. It’s our first women’s collection, it has to be right.
Follow the news about Kerby’s upcoming projects, including the collaboration with Reebok, here.