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Saturday, July 10th saw Kirby Jean-Raymond, founder and lead designer at Pyer Moss become the first black American designer to be featured at Paris Haute Couture Week. The historic show was live-streamed from the Villa Lewaro mansion in Irvington, New York, home at one time to the first black American female self-made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker. The home of Madam Walker served as a fitting setting for the show, which highlighted the numerous achievements of black inventors throughout history. The show,  which was originally due to take place on Thursday, July 8th, was delayed by two days due to Tropical Storm Elsa. The runway show featured a performance by Brooklyn rapper 22Gz, as well as a rousing speech by Elaine Brown, one of the female leaders of the Black Panther Party.

“The general concept is that these are inventions by Black people and I wanted to re-introduce them to Black people and reverse any erasure that may exist.” – Jean Raymond

Jean-Raymond and his design team showcased 25 different high-concept looks, all of which featured prominently the particular item they were inspired by, ranging from cell phones, a Super Soaker, a gas mask, a jar of peanut butter, an ice cream cone, and a mop, amongst many others. The journey to this idea was layered, as Jean-Raymond and his team worked through a number of different concepts, but after an ayahuasca trip in Joshua Tree and research at the US Library of Congress’ archive of inventions, Jean-Raymond decided to explore notions of black success that had been forgotten or disregarded. In an interview after the show, Jean Raymond said of the concept, “I believe that Black wealth matters, and I wanted to put it on display”.

The handmade collection, titled WAT U IZ, will eventually be part of a gallery installation inside the historic Villa Lewaro this fall, put together by the Pyer Moss label in collaboration with Nicola Vassell, who opened the first Black-owned gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood this year. Jean-Raymond felt the importance not only of his opportunity to show at Couture Week but also as a consumer heavy fashion label, saying “I wanted to use the stage to share with other Black Americans who inspire me — and Black people who inspired me. So I chose to make the collection a highlight reel, in a way, of many of the things we’ve contributed to society at large.”

Photography by Jeffrey Gamble for The Untitled Magazine

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