A black designer making his womenswear debut at New York Fashion Week used his catwalk show as a forum to highlight incidents of police ‘brutality and racism’, starting his show with a 15-minute video featuring footage of different cases of violence and death at the hands of the police, before debuting a collection of blood-spattered, graffiti-covered clothing inspired by each horrific case.
Haitian-Ameircan Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, from Brooklyn, New York, explained to the Daily Beast that the video, and subsequent collection, was not intended ‘for shock value’, but rather to make the audience keep thinking about the content of the harrowing clip, and the show, long after the catwalk had come to a close.
‘I have like 10 minutes to show you this video. I’ve got to get as much gripping information in that 10 minutes as possible. What’s going to leave people affected?’ 28-year-old Jean-Raymond explained after the end of the show on Thursday night.
‘It’s not for shock value, but it’s what’s going to make you think about this…after you go to three shows,’ he added. ‘What’s going to make you think about this again at 11 when you’re done for the day? That’s what it’s about.’
The video, which was shown in black and white, featured footage of the deaths of several black people at the hands of the police, including Eric Garner, who died in July last year in New York, after police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold for nearly 20 seconds while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes.
The death of Marlon Brown, a Florida resident who was hit by a police cruiser in May 2013, while being chased down over a seat-belt violation, was also included, as was a now-infamous incident at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, when 15-year-old bikini-clad Dajerria Becton was forced to the ground by police officer Eric Casebolt, who later left the force following public outcry over the act of physical violence.
Some cases included, such as the death of 93-year-old Pearly Golden, who was shot to death outside her home by police in May 2014, were less publicized at the time, but proved just as shocking to viewers at the show.
According to the Huffington Post, the video included 16 different cases of police brutality, many of which resulted in the deaths of the victims; the horrific footage occasionally elicited gasps of shock and upset from the stylish fashionistas attending the show, but was otherwise greeted with an outraged, thoughtful silence.
The clip also included interviews with the family members of some of the victims featured, including Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by officers on New Year’s Day 2009, Nicole Bell, the fiance of Sean Bell, who was shot and killed in November 2006 while leaving his bachelor party, and Emerald Garner, daughter of Eric.
After the footage finished playing, Jean-Raymond debuted his first womenswear collection, which featured several pieces inspired by the same acts of brutality featured in the clip.
One model walked down the runway in a pair of white combat-style boots, which were covered with the names of all the victims featured in Jean-Raymond’s video clip, written out in black marker, and splattered with blood stains.
Another pair of similar white combat boots featured the words ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ written all over them in the same style of black marker; victim Eric Garner is believed to have said this phrase 11 times over while lying facedown on the sidewalk after being put in a chokehold by officers.
This phrase was repeated on the back of an army green jacket, which featured the word ‘breathe’ three times on its back; the words were actually painted onto the model during the show by graffiti artist Gregory Siff, who helped Jean-Raymond bring his ideas and his messages of empowerment to life on the catwalk.
One particularly harrowing outfit, a white jacket and trousers featuring Siff’s black graffiti across the shoulders, had blood stains dripped down the back, as though the wearer had been shot in the back of the head, like South Carolina man Walter Scott, who was shot in the back eight times while running away from police officer Michael Slager.
While the collection was arguably almost as powerful as the footage of the horrific incidents that inspired it, Jean-Raymond revealed to the Huffington Post shortly after the show that he had considered not featuring the clothing at all, and simply showing his guests the video in order to ensure maximum impact.
‘I wasn’t even going to show the collection; I wasn’t 100 per cent sold on showing the collection,’ he explained. ‘I wanted to just show the video, open the doors and let everyone out.’
But the clothing featured on the catwalk wasn’t just inspired by the controversial incidents featured in the pre-catwalk footage; according to the Daily Beast, Jean-Raymond also drew on his own personal experiences with the police in order to create the collection.