Current Affairs

Bernie Sanders vs. Bernie Madoff: Pyer Moss Brings Politics and Race Center Stage at NYFW

Pyer Moss mixed poetry and invective, Son Jung Wan hit the ’70s dance floor, Tracy Reese found life in death, and Band of Outsiders made a return.

Courtesy Of Jenny Lin

Pyer Moss by Allison McNearney

Fashion has a history of embracing political and social causes, but no one does it quite like designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. For the third season in a row, Jean-Raymond has used his Pyer Moss fashion show as a stage to make a powerful political statement in a mini theatrical performance-cum-collection debut.

On Sunday afternoon, Jean-Raymond presented his Spring/Summer 2017 collection in a show titled “Bernie vs. Bernie,” referencing the dichotomy between Bernie Sanders and Bernie Madoff.

Show-goers, including rapper Rick Ross and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, entered the Milk Studios space to find members of a choir standing on the runway behind cash registers dressed all in white.

“As an idealist and somebody who is creative, I am constantly fighting; I’m like a Bernie Sanders, constantly at war with the Bernie Madoffs of the world, who constantly see me as meal ticket,” Jean-Raymond told Chantal Fernandez of Fashionista.

As the lights dimmed, the choir raised their powerful voices over the emotional, piano-based strains produced by DJ Austin Millz, and then playwright and spoken word artist Cyrus Aaron took the runway.

The spotlight was trained on Aaron as he recited powerful poetry addressing the economic inequalities pervasive in the U.S. He called out issues like predatory loans, old and new money, and the problems of disenfranchisement in the black community.

“I heard that fashion repeats, but whose coin dictates style? Ain’t this America, home of the slave and land of the free?” Aaron began.

This stunning performance set the stage for Jean-Raymond’s latest collection, in which he examined these themes in light of the presidential election and the current issues facing the U.S.

But with this collection, he was also coming from a very personal place. Over the past year, Jean-Raymond has been struggling to save his business, which is being particularly threatened by a lawsuit from his former business partner.

These emotional struggles shined through in the strong collection, which took Pyer Moss in a fresh direction. Jean-Raymond turned his design eye to business attire, playing with the elements of suiting. He paired a white double breasted suit jacket over a pair of leather shorts and a women’s blazer over a pair of sport pants with a bright purple stripe down the side. He showed a khaki trench coat with a panel of bright purple leather wrapped around the neck and down one side that was cinched around a more traditional shirt and slacks. He played with hemlines of pants and the deconstruction of what is typically considered business wear.

“I’m really deconstructing what is stereotypical Financial District douchebag clothing,” Jean-Raymond told Fernandez.

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In other looks, his message was a little less subtle. Both a navy blue Varsity jacket and a preppy men’s sweater in black lace were emblazoned with the capital letters of “GREED.” A female model wore a white oversized T-shirt tucked into loose black pants with a thick yellow stripe up one side. The front of the shirt read “Come Shake the Money Tree” while the back had a graphic of a legal document proclaiming “Final Notice.”

Jean-Raymond has been a powerful force on the runway, particularly over the past three seasons. In addition to his thought-provoking, innovative designs, he has also made the runway a space where the fashion community is forced to engage with political and social issues in ways that many other designers haven’t dared.

A year ago, Jean-Raymond addressed police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement in his Spring/Summer 2016 presentation, presenting a powerful video with interviews from victims’ families.

For the past Fall/Winter season, he collaborated with Erykah Badu, who styled the runway looks, on a collection that raised issues of depression and mental illness.

This season, Jean-Raymond is at it again, serving up a brave and pointed message—not to mention a powerful collection—in the midst of the glitz and glamour of New York Fashion Week.

Son Jung Wan by Allison McNearney

It was a straight up ’70s love fest at Son Jung Wan on Saturday, where all of the decade's crowning sartorial achievements were on full display.

From the opening look—a bright red patent leather jumpsuit with a red, blue, and white knit bodice and strategically placed cut-outs—it was clear that the crowd was going to be treated to a little cultural time traveling.

To classics tunes like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Stayin’ Alive,” an explosion of ’70s nostalgia walked down the runway; patent leather, sequins, cut-outs, brocade, and houndstooth made appearances in crop tops and jumpsuits, short shorts, and so much more. And they were served up in a psychedelic rainbow of bright and shiny colors.

Wan, who is one of South Korea’s most popular designers, made no bones about her love for the decade. The show was titled “70s Moments,” and the collection notes read that she “perfectly visualizes the cheerful and flamboyant scenes of ’70s to make the audience feel like standing right in the middle of ’70s [sic].”

In this she succeeded. The disco energy was present on the runway, from the models’ giant teased hair right down to the chunky heels of their nude open-toe pumps.

There were many elements of the collection that would make for fun statement pieces for the more daring of the summer-loving fashion set, like a series of colorful patent leather short shorts and multi-colored woven tops and jackets. Other pieces made for a lively runway show but strayed a bit too far into the category of camp. It’s hard to imagine a woman walking down the street in a shiny, silvery pink sequin dress with hot pink patent leather accents and more than a teasing hint of skin.

But part of fashion—and Fashion Week, in particular—is all about showmanship, and Son Jung Wan certainly delivered with a fun romp of a show.

Tracy Reese by Brea Tremblay

New York Marble Cemetery is a half-acre of peaceful green space that contains the remains of 2,100 of New Yorkers. On Sunday it was also the location of a lovely garden party thrown by Tracy Reese to showcase her new collection and celebrate her line’s new inclusive sizing.

Like all good parties, the atmosphere was rather freewheeling. Models posed in vignettes and then spontaneously decamped for other spots. One did watercolors and pitched her book. Another broke out some freeform dance, and her floral silk fluttered behind her as she leapt through the crowds. A few waited in line for iced green tea with the rest of us. A string quartet—clad in Tracy Reese, obviously—performed under a cluster of trees.

Whoopi Goldberg nodded along to the music, and photographers angled to get her and the band in the perfect sun-dappled shot. A model in pink silk who looked like Sasheer Zamata turned out to be Sasheer Zamata.

The designer herself escorted her guests through the grass, hugging, making introductions, laughing at jokes. Around us, previous generations of very fashionable New Yorkers rested in their crypts and hopefully enjoyed the show.

According to the show literature, the show was meant to be a celebration of women, namely the “beauty and strength in the feminine spirit.” This translated to contrast—suits, for example, were done up in flowing fabrics and sweet patterns.

It also meant a lot of dresses in every length, from minidresses with unapologetic horizontal lace stripes to a charming candy-red gown with a long train that the model cheerfully arranged for passers-by.

Bold patterns were key, geometric florals and leopard print most memorably, and most of the outfits were finished with Tevas. They were perfect for the cemetery lawn, just gliding on top of the grass.

As at Saturday’s Christian Siriano show, the models were a diverse bunch—women of all ages, sizes and colors. And just like Saturday, they looked great. The crowd also looked great, and at times, it was difficult to tell which well-dressed women were the models and which were the guests. A woman posed in a pile of rose petals, and surrounding photographers snapped away gamely. I don’t think she was a model, but she was certainly a woman having a good time.

Band of Outsiders by Wendell Brown

Fashion loves a comeback, and Saturday night saw the debut of the new Band of Outsiders. Originally founded by Scott Sternberg in 2004 with a cool, bad-ass preppy vibe of colored Oxford shirts and skinny ties, it evolved into a full lifestyle collection for men and women, but closed rather suddenly in 2015.

This new edition felt more like a remake than a comeback. Other than the occasional Varsity touch, there were few traces of the brand’s original DNA. The men and women’s Spring ’17 collection was said to be based on L.A. street culture with a laid-back attitude where comfort is king—comfort meaning loose silhouettes in tailoring that had a sporty vibe with performance fabrics.

Outerwear was strongest in excellent Varsity jackets, whether they were done in silk jacquard or burgundy felt; also great were the weightless jackets over hoodies and a peach raincoat. This was a successful brand reinvention—just as Hollywood can remake old TV shows into feature-length films, why should fashion be any different?