Designer of Issa Rae's N-Word Belt Explains the Star's CFDA Look

Issa Rae CFDA Belt - Getty - H 2018
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Politically minded designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss on creating the statement look, which was inspired in part by Diana Ross.

Issa Rae's showstopping look from last night was originally designed without the statement belt.

The Insecure star stepped onto the red carpet before hosting the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America's fashion awards Monday night, debuting a blue sparkling jumpsuit from designer Kerby Jean-Raymond for Pyer Moss. But it was the black belt, reading "Every N— Is a Star," that really stood out.

Jean-Raymond tells The Hollywood Reporter that the belt was only made and added the morning of the event.

"We finished the dress on another model on Sunday. It was really nice, but it needed something," says Jean-Raymond, who was nominated for a CFDA Swarovski Emerging Designer Award. "So I tied my tie around the dress to see if it would give it a little more body, and I did. Once we did that, we were like, 'We need the belt.' So I made that yesterday morning."

In what he calls a "very last-minute" addition, Jean-Raymond admits he "changed the entire look" with the belt and reveals he goes with his "last-minute instinct" when designing.

"I didn't know what she going to do. I just slipped it over her, and I know her sense of humor, we've hung out, and so I knew that she was going to wear it. I had no doubt about it, but she was really down for it," Jean-Raymond says.

To him, the belt was inspired by the cultural phenomenon he's observed of black people often being depicted as tragic figures. "We never talk about who they love, people with their children and their love for their families. It's always a tragic figure or as firsts — first black man to do this, first black person to do this — but what about just a bus driver?" he says. "We don't have to be Jay-Z, we don't have to be Kerby Jean-Raymond, we don't have to be Issa Rae, we can just be who we are and just exist and we're still superstars in our own rights, no matter what we do."

It was important to him to champion the phrase to show that loving a mother, caring for children or taking your daughter to school is important. As for the controversy surrounding using the N-word in fashion, Jean-Raymond says: "If you don't get it, it's not for you. If you don't get it, you weren't supposed to. It's not meant to be political. It's meant to be uplifting."

He adds, "The word has become so common that we can't escape this. There's so much loaded meaning to that word, but we've essentially repackaged it. And I hate it when people say it's a term of endearment, because there's so many other terms of endearment that you can use like 'brother,' but it's become a part of our regular, everyday vernacular, and I just think it's being overthought."

The designer initially got involved in the CFDA look after stylist Jason Rembert reached out to him. The challenge: create a dress using Swarovski crystals that's reminiscent of the diva looks in Diana Ross' cult 1975 film, Mahogany, in which she plays a fashion designer.

But it was Rae herself that requested the pantsuit to be comfortable — "She was like, 'If you make me pants, you'll be my favorite person in the world.' So we made her a jumpsuit that kind of like doubled as a gown, so it had a formal evening way about it, but it was very subdued at the same time." 

Jean-Raymond is one of those designers who considers his concept to be tantamount to commercialism. In past runway collections, he's tackled racism and police brutality.

He says his design for Rae won't be available for purchase to the mass market. "That's because I'm more of an artist than I am a designer, and you don't go to a gallery and ask an artist to replicate a piece," he says. But he doesn't rule out designing more red carpet looks. "I dressed four people last night, including myself," says Jean-Raymond, who hinted at an L.A. project coming soon.