Pyer Moss adds commentary on black erasure to Paris couture week

Six months after designing the “new wave” coat Kamala Harris wore during inauguration week, Pyer Moss made history again on Saturday when creative director Kerby Jean-Raymond became the first black designer to show at Paris couture week.

Forty-eight hours after the original show was rained off by Tropical Storm Elsa, the collection – entitled Wat U Iz – was oblique and powerful. In part a celebration of black camp, it called to mind one of Raymond’s forebearers Patrick Kelly, whose exaggerated, racially tinged clothes told an off-the-catwalk story of American culture.

The Pyer Moss show had Duchamp-meets-Moschino levels of surrealism. Household objects which were created by black inventors were blown up and worn as couture. It was a cartoonish feast for the eyes: there was a peanut butter container worn as a dress, an early model mobile phone and a fire escape worn as outfits. Huge ice-cream cones that are worn as chaps, a cape decorated entirely in hair rollers and a lampshade worn as a hat.

But beyond the Warhol-ism commentary, at its core was a deeper meaning about black erasure. It was in keeping with previous shows like American, Also: Lesson 1 (which focused on the historically forgotten black cowboy) and American, Also; Lesson 3 (about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black, female founder of rock’n’roll). Wat U Iz seemed to be largely about black joy, but also the reality of living as a black person in modern America dealing with the legacy of slavery and the ongoing fight for reparations.

There were two startling outfits. One was a puffer coat that resembled a black hand carrying a mop, another was a lifesize fridge accessorised with brightly coloured fridge magnets spelling out the question: ‘but who invented black trauma?’

A rousing in-person speech from former Black Panther, Elaine Brown, that touched on the fight for racial equality, underlined the show’s message about everyday racism, servitude and of wearing your culture (and clothes) as armour. As a show, and a statement, it will be hard to forget.