Bronx-bred creative Jerome Lamaar has been making quite the name for himself. As a fashion designer his name has been attached to some of the most recognizable faces in pop culture. Designs from his 5:31 Jérôme label have accompanied Rihanna for magazine cover shoots, Beyonce for festival runs and birthday turn-ups, and supermodels Hailey Baldwin and Irina Shayk during random outings. R&B’s current “it girl” SZA became a recipient of the self-proclaimed Style Monk’s fashion blessings when she wore one of Lamaar’s pieces in the video for her single “Supermodel.”
“I like the idea of being a cultivator of culture,” says Jerome Lamaar. “Culture to me is the most important thing. From art to food to music to style - my vision is to enhance culture.” Determined to push the culture forward and also establish himself as more than just a designer, he introduced 9JBX. Located in the South Bronx, the space operates as a clothing boutique and creative hub that houses innovative takes on fashion from emerging artists, as well as hosting culturally relevant events.
Here, Jerome Lamaar talks with REVOLT about life after discontinuing his 5:31 Jérôme brand, 9JBX and putting on for his hometown as it goes through a bevy of changes.
How has being from the Bronx influenced your career?
Jerome Lamaar: I grew up in the birthplace of hip hop and I had the opportunity to work in hip hop at an early age. I had the chance to see the evolution of a borough and an industry grow at the same time. This inspired me to create 5:31 Jérôme, which I recently stopped. It led me to opening a boutique here in the Bronx. It’s a really cool thing to have and to experience. It also helped me sort of see things from my own perspective.
As a designer, what would you consider to be your first major big break?
JL: My first big break was when Beyonce wore one of my jackets twice in a day. That was my first big break, because I had all of the buyers and editors jocking me for the same jacket that I was trying to sell them before, but no one cared. That was beautiful for the brand. It gave me a chance to keep the relationship going. Beyonce has been one of the most important people in my entire career. Her mom as well. Her mom came all the way to the Bronx for the first time and shopped in my boutique.
In the beginning, how were you able to manage the launch of 9JBX, while still running 5:31 Jérôme?
JL: I like to be busy. I think busy is a blessing, and I simply balance my time. I use my time wisely.
What was the inspiration behind the 9JBX name?
JL: 9JBX is basically the diffusion line of 5:31 Jérôme. 5 + 3 + 1 adds to 9, and I took the “J” from Jerome. So it’s a diffusion brand that people could actually purchase quickly, wear faster and enjoy daily. I always wanted to create an environment where people could come, hang out, lounge, talk and create that also felt like my home. That was my inspiration. “9J” is also my apartment number that I own in the Bronx in Pelham Bay.
The likes of Tina Knowles, Swizz Beatz, Funkmaster Flex, June Ambrose were early visitors to 9JBX. How have you been able to spread awareness about the boutique so effectively?
JL: Social media has really helped quite a bit. I didn’t have a website up until recently. I’ve been using social media simply as a platform for people to contact me and to see what I’m doing. They all reach out on their own. I think that’s the best, you know. I’m not really marketing. I’m just doing me. That allows people to kind of engage with me and kind of embrace me in an organic, non-forced way. I’m just being me and they are being really supportive of the vision, the quality and the aesthetic on their own terms. They fuck with me. [laughs]
When considering items to feature in 9JBX, what do you look for?
JL: I find designers from local areas. I also find talent that exists from all over the world. I look for authenticity. I look for things that kind of speak to me, things that tell a good story, things that fit the store’s concept for the time being and things that kind of express what’s happening on a larger scale and a local scale.
Why was it important for you to launch 9JBX in the South Bronx?
JL: After traveling the world, living in Paris, working in Dubai, living in Japan for a while, I felt the need to create my own environment in my hometown. I decided to build a shop here and basically create my own DNA. I couldn’t afford rent in the city and I’d never move to Brooklyn, so it was only right to open up a shop in the Bronx. And now look, the Bronx is the hot spot. [laughs]
The area surrounding 9JBX has started to undergo development. Some people argue that the gentrification happening there is going to change the dynamics of the surrounding neighborhoods for the worst. What are your thoughts on the change happening in that area?
JL: So the area is changing a great deal. The reason I have my shop here is to show that we can do it. "We" meaning minorities, Latinos, people from the Bronx no matter what color you are. If we all kind of pitched in and collaborated with what’s happening we can have control over the pulse of what’s happening. Yes, it’s being gentrified, but at the same time, there are people waking up and realizing that they can be empowered through this transformation. Hopefully, other small businesses will see and people of color will invest in buying stores and condos and being down here and staying in the borough and keeping it diverse. That’s how I see it. I see the change.
I know I’m part of this change, but I’m from Soundview, so I’ve dreamt of opening up something here in the Bronx. I think that if people who are local realized that they can do it too and interact with the right people and get their brains thinking in a different way, it’ll be fine. They’ll see that gentrification won’t be just from the outside. It’ll be for everyone across the Bronx to be part of this new movement, because gentrification is about improving the area for better living. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be from where I’m from Soundview and move down here or open up a shop down here. I think if we all kind of see it in that way and get involved, we can fix and control what’s happening.
How do you define Style Monk?
JL: Spirituality has continued to play a very big role throughout my whole career. I’ve tried to apply it in everything I do. I use the term “Gratitude Is Glamorous.” I’m just very grateful to all of the beauty that is in my life.