Before the models took the runway to present designer Kerby Jean-Raymond’s latest collection for his brand, Pyer Moss, a 12-minute untitled video—made by contemporary artist Shikeith, fashion photographer and Pyer Moss visual director Nekole Kemelle, and video editor Juan S. Robles—detailing police brutality against unarmed black people in America that ignited the Black Lives Matter movement, lit up the runway. “We wanted to shock people,” says Kemelle, who helped finish the video just an hour before the SS16 runway presentation. “Wake them up to the realities that others have to live with and to hopefully encourage positive change.”
The video features recording artists like Usher, longtime Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan, and the family members of multiple victims—Nicole Bell, the fiancée of Sean Bell, the 29-year-old unarmed black man who was shot and killed after police officers fired 50 shots into his car the day before he was set to marry Nicole, and Emerald Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, the unarmed Staten Island resident who was suffocated to death on video by a police officer—is in its explicitness, a devastating watch.
The fashion presentation that followed served to compliment the video. Eric Garner’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—were written over shoes and jackets and designer Jean-Raymond even splattered fake blood over items in his collection.
“When Kerby reached out to me to be involved in this project, I knew it was an opportunity to continuously shed light on the extrajudicial murders of American civilians,” explains Shikeith, whose video work, #BlackMenDream, explores the tolls state violence has taken on Black American men. “There was no other motive outside of having people listen to what is happening in their country,” he adds.
The film raises questions about the unjust treatment of black Americans by the police, as well as questions about diversity in the fashion industry. “The fashion industry gains billions in revenue from Black Americans yet remains one of the most hyper visible forms of racial discrimination across the globe,” explains Shikeith. “It exists in a racially homogeneous bubble that I wanted to burst by showcasing the brutal reality that exists for Black Americans in a frequently, non-inclusive environment.”
The three filmmakers say the ultimate goal of the project is to continue the conversation about police brutality against black Americans and to help sustain calls for reform. “It felt amazing to have the video play before the models walked the runway. We made people uncomfortable! While watching it, I heard people gasp at it,” says Juan S. Robles of the mood at the show while the film was playing. “When I heard the gasps and someone say ‘oh no!,’ I thought to myself, ‘Mission accomplished!’ That was what I wanted to do with the video, make everyone uncomfortable. Make them see the brutal reality. I think we did that.”
Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond has decided not to release the untitled video at this time.