Pyer Moss founder/designer Kerby Jean-Raymond chose the sprawling Villa Lewaro estate — once the home of the nation’s first female self-made millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker — as the host location for WUT U IZ, his first couture presentation.
Fashion heads, streetwear designers and critics alike were shuttled to the massive property for the closing show of the prestigious couture schedule. Jean-Raymond is the first Black designer to present a couture collection in the 150 year-plus history of the Chambre Syndicale. Haute Couture makes up one of the three bodies of the Chambre Syndicale which is under the umbrella of the prestigious Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
The sprawling home, originally built in 1918 and nearly an hour outside of Manhattan, was transformed into WUT U IZ, a reunion of sorts for the Black fashion community. Hundreds of attendees were at the 20,000 square foot mansion on Thursday when the show was first slated to take place, which began with a passionate speech from former Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown that spanned nearly 10 minutes. But what ensued after led to the event being rescheduled, as a violent downpour and outlandish winds hit the area. After attendees waited for three hours, instead of sending models down the wet runway, Jean-Raymond opted to push the show to Saturday. The highly anticipated live stream was also rescheduled.
Two days later, the couture presentation was still filled to the brim. Jean-Raymond opened the show to the public through a public link, and many original invitees were shuttled in again from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
To begin, Brown repeated her striking lecture touching on the current generation of protestors and activists. She detailed the Black Panther Party’s history but also raised the following question, “Where do we go from here?”
The answer to her question arrived when East Flatbush rapper 22Gz arrived alongside white-suited dancers, his performance fusing New York drill with classical music. During his energetic set, the couture looks were presented.
As 22Gz rapped, showgoers were presented with an exploration of Black inventors and other pieces paying homage to items Jean-Raymond associated with his upbringing, including a fire escape, a cell phone, and even an ice cream cone with sprinkles. Jeremy Scott and legendary Black designer Patrick Kelly came to mind when a model came down the runway dressed as a literal peanut butter jar, and again when another model appeared as a Super Soaker credited to Lonnie Johnson, the man who invented the popular water gun. Entrepreneur Garret Morgan’s three-position traffic signal light also appeared as a larger-than-life creation.
WUT U IZ also featured stunning gowns paired with garish, oversized recreations of everyday products. For instance, a yellow gown was worn with an air conditioning unit, and a sky blue tiered gown was paired with a golden horseshoe, a nod to Oscar E. Brown, an inventor linked to the equestrian accessory.
One all-white look featuring a flowy skirt featured a handmade mother of pearl shell buckle and gold cabochon bezel set by Johnny Nelson, a Brooklyn-based jewelry and accessory designer. He also designed smokey topaz buttons stitched onto a chess-inspired suit worn by Aoki Lee Simmons, daughter of Kimora Lee Simmons and defamed music mogul Russell Simmons.
This was a return to form for Nelson as years ago in 2013, he once worked with gems and stones. He currently focuses on historic figures, respected artists, and radical leaders in his work. Nelson and Raymond last collaborated for a Pyer Moss collection shown in Paris last year.
“Working with raw stones, gems [and] the hand-cut pearl is a new direction for Pyer Moss. It’s outside of the box to cut the pearl and shell and turn it into a belt buckle,” Nelson said over a call following the show. “It’s always fun working with Kerby and the team. They’re always pushing the culture forward, they’re always pushing me creatively.”
The second to last look of the show that grabbed the attention of nearly every guest. This creation featured hundreds of wads of hair wrapped with curlers. The model wore this as a cloak of sorts; underneath she also wore an orange and teal robe. Undoubtedly, this imaginative pairing was an homage to Madame C.J. Walker, the nation’s first female self-made millionaire.
Directly after the last look was sent out, Jean-Raymond took the stage and requested his creative team to join him. The crew ran out and were met with widespread applause from nearly every attendee.
The presentation was followed by an after-party that was catered with staple foods for Caribbeans: Jerk chicken, rice and peas, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad were served under tents to the hundreds of guests who stuck around. Nearby, an open bar served esteemed stylists Kollin Carter, Law Roach, and other talent regarded for their creativity. In another area, DJ Clark Kent played Pop Smoke, Brent Faiyaz, Travis Scott and more. As showgoers ate, models posed for images at the back of Villa Lewaro in their couture looks.
WUT U IZ was a declaration that Jean-Raymond and his talented design and production team are still dreaming up and executing larger-than-life presentations injected with distinct cultural highlights. Selecting Villa Lewaro as the show’s location was fitting given Madame C.J. Walker’s impact on African-Americans. Presenting on her property emphasized the idea that Black invention and our imagination are a part of our ongoing legacy.