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This Is the South Bronx, the Unlikely Fashion Hub of New York City

Jerome Lamaar is designing clothes for the biggest names in music right here in his home borough.

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Designer and creative consultant Jerome Lamaar coined the term “Bronx Luxe” to capture a particular style born out of his home borough. He describes it as a luxury-meets-street movement, and he’s definitely on to something. In the last few years, the South Bronx in particular has undergone a massive transformation — one that has brought local makers and entrepreneurs into the spotlight. City data from 2013 showed an uptick in Bronx businesses, particularly in the retail sector. The success of those businesses, at least anecdotally, stems from community support and a unique neighborhood pride that inspires locals to invest in each other.

Jerome Lamaar

Just ask Henry Obispo, who grew up in the Bronx and models for Lamaar, but who is also an entrepreneur in his own right. The two met when Obispo started hanging out at Lamaar’s store, 9J. “He’s like my annoying little brother,” explains Obispo, laughing. “I’m around him all the time, trying on all the clothes. I’m not even a model. I have my own business!”

Obispo’s business, Born Juice, will be the first cold-pressed juice bar and plant-based eatery in the Bronx. He has been working with the SUNY Farmingdale Department of Urban Horticulture and Design to implement a forward-thinking, sustainable business plan and to bring fresh, plant-based options to a neighborhood that has historically struggled as a food desert.

Left: Shana Jordan; Right: Henry Obispo

Shana Jordan, a Bronx native, also met Lamaar at 9J and modeled his line at New York Fashion Week. “Every time we do something together, it’s always magical,” she says. Jordan is also friends with Obispo and is as passionate about plant-based eating as he is, so she’s particularly excited about his business venture. As for her own business plans, Jordan hopes to start a vegan fashion line. It’s clear that this crew — and their extended network in the South Bronx — will support their endeavors, because they continuously show up for the community as well. It’s a positive neighborhood cycle that’s paying dividends.

Recently, Jordan, Obispo, and Lamaar got together for a photoshoot to raise money for BronxWorks, a local human service organization. Fully decked out in Lamaar’s fashion, Obispo and Jordan looked decidedly Bronx Luxe. Lamaar gave some insight into how he put the looks together and exactly what inspired each piece. Not surprisingly, much of his work is a tribute to where he comes from.

Q: Are these pieces part of one specific collection?

A: The look on Shana is from a previous collection, while Henry is wearing a full look from my most recent collection. Shana wears the hand bead Cosmic jacket, made from Italian velvet denim over the maroon sheath dress. Henry wears a crystal hand-beaded tactical vest, silk-cotton long sleeve crewneck, and the “Seeker Flightsuit“ tied at his waist.

Q: What do you love about these pieces?

A: What I love most about these pieces are the one-of-a-kind items, which defined my mood at the time of making them. Each bead and crystal somehow represents a memory from the time. In a way, creating the pieces becomes a meditation for me.

Q: Where does your flair for beading and sequins come from?

A: When I find inspiration, it starts with my perspective of spirituality and glamour. I found the only way to fully express my perspective of these two things is by using shiny things that excite. Once I find the pieces I love, I tap into my own flow and the pieces come out in a very unique way with no mapping involved. Hence, each item is truly one of a kind.

Q: Did you sew these pieces by hand?

A: Yes.

Q: You seem to appreciate functionality/durability (like sturdy jackets, for example) but then you pair that with sparkle, feathers, and gems. What is it about that contrast that interests you?

A: I believe that beauty doesn’t have mean fragility. This concept of taking military-inspired pieces that I loved growing up from my dad’s military years and fusing those with my mother’s love of sequin and shine is the balance I have found in my aesthetic.

Q: Some describe your fashion as “maximalist.” Would you describe these ensembles that way?

A: These items are the epitome of maximalism. I see each layer of the pieces as its own dimension. I don’t believe that less can ever be more...I think that is a myth made up by someone that couldn’t use their imagination to its fullest. Look at the universe: It’s also a maximalist. Everything is layered, textured, and multiple.

Q: Why the big carabiner clips on Henry’s vest? And the feathers?

A: The idea of function is important to me. I think taking things that are not considered stylish and glamming them up makes you see that FUNCTION can be beautiful too. The feathers were symbolic of a feather from a phoenix, as that collection was about rebirth. I chose it for it’s fiery color, not quite sure where it came from.

Q: You have an interest in the idea of alchemy. How does that come through in these pieces?

A: I believe in the great work of the soul, and alchemy is all about transforming an unenlightened soul into one that is. I believe we all practice alchemy daily in our lives through every decision we make. The beaded vest contains materials and colors that represent stages of the soul toward enlightenment. From lava to lapis lazuli, gold to turquoise, it’s a piece full of symbolic beauty.

Q: Those sneakers! Why the gold details?

A: The sneakers were made for fashion week as a symbol of the journey. The idea is of trekking through mud (hardships in life), but if you look back, it turns out to be golden and important for your growth. Just remember: It’s about your perspective on the situation. That’s why the gold was so key.

Q: Important question to settle once and for all: Can denim be fancy?

A: Yes, it’s officially part of every wardrobe, and when worn right it can change lives.

Q: Finally: How did you meet the models, Henry and Shana? Why do you feel it’s important to prioritize working with models you know or meet locally?

A: I met them both during my years of owning my fashion boutique in the South Bronx. They each came in during different points in the process and have been extremely supportive. I used them both in my recent PRESENTATION during fashion week at Tumblr’s headquarters. That was a tribute to the Bronx, and they are both from here too.

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