Fierce

Designer Calls Out Fashion Publication For Cultural Appropriation Says ‘Homage Without Empathy Is Appropriation’

BoF (The Business of Fashion) is a fashion industry publication that is essentially a daily resource for news on the fashion industry as it pertains to business. Its founder and Editor In Chief is a fashion business advisor and writer, Imran Amed. The website has grown to print, and annually, BoF puts out a list of the top 500 people “shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry”. Additionally, BoF holds an annual invitation-only event bringing together “movers, shakers and trailblazers” in the fashion industry. The event, called “Voices” consists of a series of panels and talks that unite ” big thinkers, entrepreneurs and inspiring people who are shaping the wider world.” 

Last night, Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, one of the 100 fashion professionals added to Business of Fashion’s prestigious list of people shaping the fashion industry, attended the BoF Gala in Paris to celebrate the new members added to the list this year. But while at the Gala, Jean-Raymond was faced with a few incidents that, added onto his personal experience with the publication and its founder Imran Amed, he found offensive and insensitive. What he saw at the Gala was the last straw, “I was at 60% ‘had it’ with this whole shit” he said in an op-ed about the whole experience and took to his social media to call out the disingenuous way in which BoF addressed diversity and inclusion.

instagram @kerbito

At the Gala, guests were greeted by a black gospel choir, but instead of feeling welcome, guests walked in feeling confused and uncomfortable.

credit instagram @aurorajames

Kerby, who founded his label Pyer Moss in 2013 as a menswear brand, and first started using the runway as a means to explore activism —His very first collection in 2015 was about “Black Lives Matter”  (It was never sold and is currently in the archive of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture)— shared some thoughts on his Instagram stories the night of the event. At the Gala, guests were awkwardly greeted by a black gospel choir. “This is some insulting shit” wrote Jean-Raymond who himself, assembled a gospel choir for his last show at New York Fashion Week —which aimed to highlight the untold stories of Black people’s major contributions to American culture.  

Fellow fashion designer and founder of accessories brand ‘Brother Vellies’, Aurora James, also commented on the choir in her own Insta stories, tagging @BoF and writing, “Not everyone gets to have a black gospel choir. I’m so confused. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating diversity and inclusion? Not appropriation? We are at a fashion awards show. Fashion exploits more women of color than any other industry. Why is there a black gospel choir?”

In his final Instagram Story from the event, Jean-Raymond wrote, “Diversity and Inclusion is a trend for these folks. BoF 499, I’m off the list.” But the choir was just the last straw that broke the camel’s back after months of negative experiences with ‘Business of Fashion’. The designer went on to explain the whole experience in an open letter published on Medium.com. 

The gospel choir was just the last straw that broke the camel’s back after months of negative experiences with BoF and Imran Amed himself.

“Last year, I was invited to speak at and attend BoF Voices. I was told they wanted to hear my story of the formation of PM and how I’ve navigated the industry. As an outsider for so long, I was proud to be invited and get to share my story,” said the designer who also highlighted that he had stopped doing “group panels” which he found, just “lump us all in, ‘Black in Fashion’ or ‘Diversity & Inclusion'” as opposed to making space for individual people of color to express their ideas and tell their own stories.  He stressed that he agreed to do a “solo panel” and at the very last minute —while he was already on the plane to London— he was informed that the event was now a group panel.

He agreed to participate because of his “immense respect for the other panelists, “Patrick and LaQuan as designers who like me are black” he wrote. He admits thought, that he did it begrudgingly because “in reality all three of us have our own unique narratives and history’s that warranted our own separate solo stages. The same solo stages that all the other white designers have received, for years.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtgNIkiAACf/?igshid=1uiqzfaz5mroe

Kerby described how the experience was “lowkey degrading” and quickly evolved into a heated and straight up problematic conversation. He declined to share details but said that himself and a few other panelists were offended and left the campus the very next day, ending the trip 2 days short. 

Kerby was contacted by BoF founder Imran Amed and offered one of the magazine covers, they began a series of meetings and phone calls that would turn sour.

credit instagram @kerbito

He was subsequently contacted by Imran himself who apologized and said the designer had been selected to be one of the three covers of overs of the BoF 500 magazine. “Big “oh shit” moment for me. ????, me, cover.” he wrote in the Medium.com open letter, “So this now began a series of phone calls between him and I and meetings in Paris.” The New York City based designer went on to explain how Imran had picked his brain during months, for names to include in the “list of diverse people”, Jean-Raymond shared information about personal and creative projects including his new appointment at Reebook, which was private information he had shared “in the spirit of transparency” for the story to be published later in the year. After their last meeting, “he [Imran Amed] looked satisfied with the information he’d received and I left feeling chill but weird.”  Just moments after the meeting was over, BoF founder and Editor-In-Chief, texted Jean-Raymond to let him know he was no longer to be included in the cover; “Like really soon after that meeting saying ‘we are going to go a different route with the cover’…”.

Pyer Moss designer attended the Gala begrudgingly and in the spirit of peacemaking.

“I have let a lot of shit slide because I do think a lot of problems can be resolved without public provocation. I typically prefer not to be blacklisted. I hate being the only one that talks up.” he wrote. But when Imran stood up to give a shout out to the people who inspired him to focus the issue on Diversity and Inclusion, he called out at least 20 names, “including Olivier Rousteing and Pierpaolo Picolli as leaders in ‘Diversity and Inclusion.’ I was excluded.” Both Olivier Rousteing, creative designer at Balmain, and Pierpaolo Picolli, creative designer at Valentino, have been accused of insensitive cultural appropriation.

A screenshot of one of Pierpaolo Picolli’s problematic campaigns shot for Valentino. credit: instagram @aurorajames 

To have your brain picked for months, be told that your talk at the ‘salon’ and work inspired this whole thing, and then be excluded in favor of big brands who cut the check is insulting.

It was he level of entitlement that lay at the core of the whole thing what angered the designer. He retells how at one point the choir went on stage and Imran started dancing with them. In an industry where racial bias is prevalent and diversity is still not represented as widely as it should be, people feel like they can buy or own whatever they want, as it pertains to the culture of people of color, as it “pertains to blackness. We always up for sale.”

Kerby made sure to point out that he claims no ownership for choirs, or Christianity or the safe spaces that these brought to black people, the choir was not the issue, he made sure to express that; “Homage without empathy and representation is appropriation,” “By replicating ours and excluding us— you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?”

In a time when brands are starting committees, reaching out to ignored and oppressed communities and reviewing their hiring processes to be more inclusive; the exploitation and “othering” of the culture and struggles of people of color for a privileged group’s benefit, is still prevalent. “I understand that you have to make money, we all are selling something, but dawg, not your soul. And not ours.” It’s clear that Jean-Raymond isn’t going to hold back on expressing his thoughts. Nor should he. As he said in his Medium post, “me getting checks is not going to stop me from checking you.”

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