Jerome LaMaar is a cultivator of culture, fusing all of his charisma, creative energy, and positive vibes to help push culture forward. He's known for his work ethic and his ability to empower. He started working when he was just 15 years old for Kimora Lee Simmons' Baby Phat, where he learned about both the corporate environment and the business of fashion, and currently owns a studio-retail space in the South Bronx, 9J.
Q: To start off, we're all curious: How did you get the gig--your label's first celebrity gig--with High Priestess Bey?
A: I developed a great reputation by having a crazy work ethic, which connected me to her stylist, Zerina. What was cool about it is I simply sent her a text and asked "Why isn't Beyonce wearing one of my iridescent sweatshirts from my second collection in her 7/11 video?" Zerina's response was funny. She said, "Sweetie, we don't need another sweat-shirt. We need pieces!" And so I delivered my pieces to her and she wore it twice in one day.
Q: What's one of your favorite works you've made for her?
A: I think my favorite piece would have to be the first yellow lemonade dress that she wore. [Beyonce's stylist, B. Akerlund, ultimately decided on the Roberto Cavalli dress for the video.]
Q: You were recently dubbed "The Wiz of Bruckner Boulevard" by New York Times Fashion & Style in an article called "The Rebranding of the Bronx." Tell us about some of your efforts to rebrand the borough.
A: Well there's no real effort on my end on rebranding the Bronx from here. I simply wanted to create something that represented the way I saw the world. For many years the Bronx has been overlooked and I'm simply helping the world to see the beauty that we've always had.
Q: Who are some of the new faces you've welcomed into 9J?
A: Tina Knowles Lawson (Beyonce's mom), June Ambrose, chef Marcus Samulsson, Swizz Beats, Funk Master Flex, Rihanna, Hailey Baldwin, Justine Skye, Ms. Jay Alexander, Michelle Lamy (Rick Owen's wife) and bunch more.
Q: You say the movie rendition of The Wiz helped inspire you when you were younger to become the person you are today. What did you see in the film?
A: What I took from The Wiz as a child was the influence of the of the Wizard and how he had the power to change colors and inspire people and sounds that change the culture at large in Emerald City. This is what led me to pursue my career as a fashion designer and a trend forecaster--I basically help brands to see what are the influences from colors, textures, and design concepts.
Q: What's in-store right now that we shouldn't miss?
A: Right now the store is actually about to be transformed into my new direction, which I do every quarter of the year. If you want to visit, right now, the best item in the shop I will have to say are iconic soap bars. They smell great, they're natural and they are an affordable luxury item. We make them every two weeks and there's a back order.
Q: Any advice for young designers?
A: My advice for young designers is don't pursue the normal path that every other designer does. We are living in a new age where you don't need magazines to validate you. You can simply sell items straight from your Instagram or create your own online boutique or find a platform like my store where you can sell physical pieces. My best advice is to know your identity, your brand, and know why you're creating it--because sometimes it can be really hard to stick it through and focus on your dream.
Q: As a Bronx resident, what's one element about New York City or the Bronx that has inspired you or your work the most?
A: The Bronx is my home. It has so many beautiful elements to it; they inspire me to see the world in a different perspective that if I was growing up in any other borough I would never have achieved. There's something to be said about those of us who grew up in the Bronx--we have Bronx pride. That pride allows us to see culture in ways that you can't imagine. I'm inspired every day to wake up and go to my shop and see the faces and see the changes, but most of all I'm inspired by the energy of the Bronx.
Find out more about Jerome in the first episode of The Six Pack, presented by Coors Light.