Champion cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor may not be known to the masses, but he was a pioneer in his sport. He was one of the most recognizable athletes in the world at the turn of the 20th century, having earned seven world records by 1898.
As The Root’s own Genetta Adams wrote in 2013:
In 1899 sprint cyclist Taylor became the first African American to achieve the status of world champion. He was also most likely the first African American to be a member of an integrated professional team and the first to have commercial sponsors. Speaking of which, Nike, not a company to miss an opportunity, used to market shoes inspired by the cyclist.
Now, another world-renowned brand is shining the spotlight on Taylor’s illustrious career—with the help of a contemporary fashion superstar. Pyer Moss designer and founder, Kerby Jean-Raymond, is the latest to collaborate with French cognac brand Hennessy for their ongoing and award-winning “Wild Rabbit” campaign.
For 2018, the Wild Rabbit campaign, which launched in 2012, based on the theme of “inner rivalry,” is telling Taylor’s incredible but mostly forgotten story. To do so, the brand has partnered with nonprofit cycling club organization National Brotherhood of Cyclists (NBC), founded in Taylor’s honor, as well as artist Kadir Nelson, BMX rider Nigel Sylvester, road cyclist Ayesha McGowan and rapper Nas, who has long been associated with the campaign and voices the promotional spots. As a statement from the brand read, all of the above are considered “modern-day luminaries” who “Never stop. Never settle.”
Jean-Raymond’s contribution is a limited edition, five-piece Taylor-themed capsule collection titled “MMT 140 for Hennessy V.S by Pyer Moss,” which launches today, Monday, Oct. 22. The collection, which includes a cycling cap, graphic tee, parachute jogger pants, crewneck sweatshirt and bomber jacket, retails for $150-$500, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the NBC.
Additionally, Hennessy is sponsoring the NBC’s annual series of synchronized Birthday Tribute Rides across the country on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, honoring the 140th anniversary of Taylor’s birth. Inspired by Taylor’s mission to promote higher education, Hennessy and the NBC will be giving one $25,000 “full ride” scholarship in the cyclist’s name.
Of course, this is far from the first time Jean-Raymond, a CFDA award nominee and current CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist has given a nod to African-American history and culture in his designs—in fact, his work is predicated on it. The Pyer Moss Fall-Winter 2018-19 collection referenced the oft-forgotten legacy of black cowboys, while the recent Spring-Summer ’19 presentation was staged at historic African American community site Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Jean-Raymond stirred controversy within the fashion industry after confronting police brutality head-on at his Spring-Summer 2016 showing.
He also proved himself a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by his growing prestige and the runaway success of his sneaker collaborations with Reebok. To get a closer look at Jean-Raymond’s exciting and inspired new work with Hennessy, check out the slideshow below.
Corrected: 10/22/19, 11:08 a.m. EDT: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the date of the National Brotherhood of Cyclists tribute rides commemorating the Marshall “Major” Taylor to Saturday, November 24th, 2018. The date has been rescheduled to Saturday December 1, 2018, when synchronized tribute rides will take place in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York to support the NBC’s mission of promoting diversity in sports.