As I make may way through the thirsty throng eager to take selfies with the cavalier male models at Pyer Moss's S/S 15 presentation at New York Fashion Week, I run into designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, who is not so successfully trying to disguise the gigantic fucking bandage he has on his forehead with a beanie.
Earlier that day, as he finished final preparations, hundreds of texts, emails and calls came pouring in, which caused him to round a corner too quickly and bash his head on a glass door frame, leaving him with a emergency room-worthy gash. Sitting with him in his studio almost a week later, he still has one of those small bandages boxers wear after getting cut in a fight. Despite the injury, a true occupational hazard if there ever was one, Pyer Moss's S/S 15 collection ended up being one of the most memorable of fashion week. Not bad for a brand that started up early last year.
That start was an interesting one. As Kerby was helping a friend start a clothing company, investors and business decisions caught up with them and forced him out. "It was disappointing," he says. "I'd just quit my job, so I ended up taking a little time to find myself. I know it sounds stupid as shit. but I spent six weeks in Istanbul in late 2012 and met some leather tailors there. They showed me all this stuff about leather I never dealt with before and welcomed me in."
After returning to New York, he put together a camo jacket sample and, through a friend, sent it to Rihanna in an attempt to build some hype in February 2013. "I didn't expect her to wear it so soon, but she wore it literally the next day," he says. From that cosign alone, the Pyer Moss name had enough steam to put together a capsule collection and reclaim the studio in the Garment District that formerly belonged to the company he was pushed out of after it declared bankruptcy. Karma's a bitch.
Now in its third season, Pyer Moss (pronounced "Pierre Moss") defines a homegrown, New York-based brand. Kerby spent most of his life within a ten block radius in a primarily West Indian Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by kids his own age and playing sports. "I played baseball, was on the basketball team in high school, did crew at Hofstra and randomly played ultimate frisbee too," he says. "But none of the organized teams I was on were anywhere near as competitive as the games on the street." Those very same pick-up game warriors now play a large part in his design process.
Nearly every piece Kerby designs is based off a uniform: the Ryan shirt is pulled from a high school baseball jersey, the Jabber trousers are inspired by a soccer warm-up pant and the tanks are based on authentic NBA jerseys. Of course, everything is slimmed down to fit off-the-rack for the tall, skinny guys, like his friends who play the part of his prototypical customer. "I design for them first and foremost," Kerby says. "We're always ready for a pick-up game. I walk through the park on the way home everyday and just think to myself,'I'll take on any of these kids.'"
'My customer reads blogs, is on social media, so I design with contrast in mind.'
To match the athletic feel, all items go through rigorous wear testing and many use anti-bacterial material to prevent any stank. But Pyer Moss isn't just another dime a dozen activewear line that's dominating menswear these days. An admitted obsessive, Kerby often finds himself digging into the themes and details of movies he'd seen while dreaming up the designs for an upcoming season.
S/S 14 pulled the motocross theme from The Place Beyond The Pines. "Before S/S 14, I called up Suzuki to get three dirt bikes for the show and I kept the last one for a while before I returned it and just fucked around," he says. The motocross inspiration shone through on the Ryan and Deans shirts, signature items that have a single side zipper rather than two, a detail that riders appreciate as it makes it easier to sit on a bike.
F/W 14 channeled the slash and stab of Blade and samurai culture. "I literally saw a guy in the background of Blade chopped up and asked myself, 'I wonder what his clothes would look like if you reconstructed them?'" As a result, he read deeper into things like the code of the Bushido, the moral guide of the samurai.
His latest collection, S/S 15, mixed Robocop, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Total Recall to create a dystopian, futuristic collection that still remains wildly wearable: tights featuring padded knees with shorts layered on top, shirt-like anorak jackets and neoprene, nylon, denim and mesh placed side-by-side on a single item. Sure, it can feel overwhelming, as if everything you thought about the future had come true and completely false all at the same. The futuristic black jumpsuit that stole the show came together the day before as Kerby cut and sewed the piece together. "My dad used to give me old electrical equipment that didn't work anymore and I'd put things together. I think that's why I like to mix things that don't belong."
Part of Pyer Moss's success stems from Kerby's 21st century mindset—one that admittedly, at first, sounds incredulous. "I design for social media," he says. "My customer reads blogs, is on social media, so I design with contrast in mind. An all black shirt looks good on the shelf, but not online. It sounds vain, but if you're running a business these days, those likes are important. Everything has to be 15 seconds or less."
He wants customers to see the paneling with ease so they know what they're getting. Then, he might offer a variation that's more subtle. But it was that high-contrast version that pulled them in. With more than 11 shops carrying Pyer Moss product and few of them receiving the same delivery, the approach seems to be working. Now, Kerby has one thing on his mind, "I want to get prices down, but I'm not willing to budge on production in New York." We have no doubt this is going to be one of the rare cases where the sequel is better than the original.