NY designer denounces police killings from runway

Gunfire is not the typical soundtrack to a New York fashion show and graphic footage of racially charged police killings are not the typical pre-catwalk introduction.

But designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, the 28-year-old award-winning founder of label Pyer Moss, made the starkest of political statements in debuting his womenswear collection on day one of New York fashion week.

NY designer Kerby Jean-Raymonddenounces police killings from runway - AFP / Joshua Lott

"I don't want to say everybody's racist because that's not the case for me but this eruption that you've been seeing in the past two years needs to stop, it can't be an everyday thing," he told AFP backstage.

A wave of police killings of unarmed black men has become a defining issue in contemporary America, sparking a wave of protests and giving birth to a new generation of rights activists.

The fashion pack is not renowned for its social conscience, but Jean-Raymond -- who dislikes being pigeonholed as a black designer -- says if the media choose to focus on his race, then he wants it on his own terms.

So he opened his 2016 spring/summer womenswear collection with a shockingly graphic 10-minute video of white police shooting black men and interviews he conducted with their grieving loved ones.

Included was footage of Eric Garner, a New York father of six who died in 2014 after being held in an illegal police chokehold, repeatedly crying "I can't breathe" as officers pinned him to the ground.

When the black and white video ended, out strode the models -- the most racially diverse group seen on a single runway at New York fashion week.

- 'That was scary man' -

His capsule collection paired sports-inspired leggings with basketball shorts and sharply-tailored blazers, plus white leather biker jackets.

There were red collars, a tribute the designer said to the red and black ribbons worn in the United States in solidarity with murder victims, as the techno soundtrack boomed, laced with the sound of gunshots.

"That was scary man," the Haitian-American designer told AFP and a small group of reporters backstage after the show.

"You hear those gunshots and you hear like those screams and everything like that, and you don't get used to it."

The scholarship boy from Brooklyn, who said he was stopped and frisked by police 12 times before he was 18, hopes the video will help spur people to action -- even just to be a little bit kinder.

"I just hope that people will leave from it more aware, a little bit more open," he said.

The designer, who used to work for luxury evening wear label Marchesa, said the brutality of the video, in which victims are shot, lie bleeding, are kicked in the ribs and even hauled out of a car -- was deliberate.

"It's not easy to watch," he said. "I think what's happening in America is people are becoming desensitized to seeing those acts of violence."

Jean-Raymond is a man on the rise having launched Pyer Moss, named after his mother, only two years ago. He already won a coveted award for menswear in 2014.

- Reinvented athletic gear -

He reinvents classic athletic gear and uniforms but says his womenswear was drawn and conceptualized before he thought about presenting it.

He says he suffers from "survivor's guilt" and the realization that his own life could have taken a tragic turn for the worse.

"I was able to do something better for myself," he said.

"You've got all these kids who are still coming up in that environment who are not going to get a fair chance because nobody who left is saying anything about it."

But neither does he paint all police with a bad brush.

"There are a lot of good cops," he said. He believes the problem is police not knowing communities and negative narratives of black people on TV. "That dictates their fear, so can you blame them?"

He lashes out at what he calls stupid articles and hateful headlines that are "racially driven to get more twitter clicks."

"If I'm going to be the black designer, I'm going to tell it my way.

Copyright © 2018 AFP. All rights reserved. All information displayed in this section (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the contents of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presses.

Luxury - Ready-to-wearCatwalks