Marisol Espinosa, Guest Writer
When we hear about New York Fashion Week, it’s “5 Tips to Bring NYFW to Your Closet” or it’s commentary on what celebrities attended which show.
However, on September 10, fashion designer and founder of Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond made an important statement when he created a fashion show dedicated to continuing the conversation of racism and police brutality; a statement that should not go unnoticed because of its significance of the reality faced by the black community in the US.
Jean-Raymond began his powerful show by dimming the lights to provide attention towards the video screen lit up at the end of the catwalk.
Shocking images and scenes of death paired with power abuse, dead bodies lying in pools of blood, and interview clips of grieving families were creatively spliced together to provoke discussion between members of his audience; an intended eye-opener that began the introduction of his 2016 spring collection.
As the video continued, models, mostly of color, walked down the runway to sounds of gunshots and police sirens in attire that resembled military attire fused with modern, urban aspects. The most popular article of clothing being stark white boots with splattered red paint and the names of those who lost their lives to police brutality as well as the final words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe.”
Other pieces of clothing included netting, straps, and tight collars accurately representing the binding and entrapment of the black body within our current culture; the way the clothing clinged to the body depicted what it means to be dark skinned and unfairly hindered by societal prejudice.
As models continued down the runway, graffiti artist Gregory Siff spray painted on them as human canvasses, displaying words and phrases like “savage” and “breathe, breathe, breathe.”
Creating a visual experience such as Jean-Raymond did was a big step in outspoken activism as social media isn’t enough of a platform to get word out for needed change, especially a year later.
Since the beginning of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, there has been an abundance of social media support from celebrities and news reports on celebrities attending a protest, but where has everyone been now that it’s a year later? How is word supposed to present itself outside of social media now that protesting has died down?
Deaths since the lull of major protests have gained social media recognition, but not much more than offered. New York Fashion Week is highly attended event, filled with reporters and big names.
Jean-Raymond knew this and utilized his status to fulfill his activist intention: get the word out. He sought an objective and he achieved it better than even he would have expected. He forced people to look at reality. Yes, reality.
Our society is broken in places that even Jean-Raymond himself can attest to. He stated his inspiration came from his own experiences as being a victim of police brutality; his most recent run in being a month ago when his injured fingers, taped together with black tape, were mistaken for a gun.
He had just finished a phone call only to turn and find two police guns on him. Before the age of 18, he was stopped and frisked by police officers more times than he could count with both hands.
Being a big name in fashion and using an event that has been known to attract many audience members, Jean-Raymond knew he needed to bring more visibility back onto the #BlackLivesMatter movement, so despite the critiques he knew he would receive for using NYFW as his media platform, he made his statement. My question now is, when will you make yours?
A year may have already passed since the start of the movement, but the length of time does not excuse for the lack of continued conversation that is needed.
Why aren’t we still talking about this? In order to start doing, we need to start by talking, discussing, and recognizing. If nothing has changed since this movement has first began, we have failed as members of our society.
We tend to forget that our voices can be powerful as a whole; we shouldn’t rely on a single voice to make a change when together our voices can be heard around the world.
Follow in Jean-Raymond’s footsteps, and don’t be afraid to speak out. And to those who lost their lives due police brutality and prejudice, may they rest in power. 🅼