"It's a breakdown of things that I love, concepts and emerging ideas that I feel should be seen," says designer Jérôme LaMaar, who launched his own line 5:31 Jérôme in 2013. He's talking about 9J, a "gallotique," as he calls it, which is a gallery-boutique mash-up that recently opened this spring in the South Bronx. Why the Boogie Down? Simple: It's home for LaMaar, a fifth generation New Yorker. Before its renovation, 9J was once an antique store, similar to the brick-and-mortars that neighbor it. LaMaar acquired the space about a year ago, revamped the entire thing and opened up shop on Bruckner Boulevard, a short walk from the 3 Av/138 St subway stop on the 6.
"Being from the Bronx, it made sense to open up shop here," he says. "This area is developing. It's the new everything. It's the last frontier." And LaMaar is right. The neighborhood welcomed coffee shop Filtered Coffee in April, just a few blocks away from 9J, and a pop-up art show-turned-party (although controversial) happened in November of last year. Titled "Macabre Suite" and thrown by artist (and Wang Squad member) Lucien Smith, the event attracted such fashion insiders as models Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid, Ruby Aldridge, Hanne Gaby Odiele and Dree Hemingway, as well as designers John Varvatos and Brian Atwood, among many others to the South Bronx.
LaMaar's 9J has welcomed its own famous visitors: J. Alexander, Swizz Beatz and Michele Lamy. Lamy, Rick Owens's wife, design partner and muse, took home a bar of "Intercourse," a soap with masculine notes that's made of goat's milk and handcrafted by LaMaar himself. (The designer doesn't just make clothing, he handpours soy-based candles and constructs scented soap, too.) "To me, this is a form of glamour," he says. Discovering that such a concept can come in different forms aside from LaMaar's signature sequined clothing wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for 9J. In fact, the "gallotique" has helped him hone in on his brand even more.
LaMaar opened 9J with his spring, fall and pre-fall collections available for purchase. His spring stock has sold out, while pre-orders are currently being taken for the other seasonal pieces. This type of one-on-one customer feedback has given the designer a better idea of what's going to sell and what changes to make for improvement. The boyfriend-cut jeans, which have proven to be a popular choice at 9J, could be offered in a stretchier version, for example. Limited-edition leather-and-grommet jackets were sold as soon as they arrived from the manufacturer, and his sequin-covered apparel — from denim and shirt dresses to floor-length robes — are a hit among both men and women. Larger sizes are also a new priority for 5:31 Jérôme. "It's helping me see where I am as a designer," says LaMaar. "What items I should move forward with, what items I need to change and what I need to enhance to make the 'street glam' look stronger."
Visitors can also browse a hodgepodge of shoppable items curated by LaMaar, including select pieces from emerging designers, mainly friends, such as Rio Uribe's Gypsy Sport; MINY, a T-shirt line that stands for "Made in New York;" womenswear designer LaQuan Smith and menswear designer Brian Wood. LaMaar is looking into featuring student collections from Parsons, RISD, FIT and Central Saint Martins in the future as well. There are knick-knacks that tie in with his fall collection, too, including a set of zodiac-inspired ceramic discs from an auction and a coffee table book on the cosmos. The art pieces on display in the store are for sale (the "gall" of "gallotique"): A graffiti-covered chair by John Paul O'Grodnick, paintings by Ronald Draper and Joe by Joe and a skateboard wrapped with fox fur from, you guessed it, LaMaar. They're peppered among crystal geodes from his apartment and floral displays by his fiancé.
"I thought [9J] was just going to have clothes," says LaMaar. "It just so happened it became more of a lifestyle, and that's South Bronx Luxe." The designer has stuck with this catchphrase (and successful point of view) since he launched. "The whole room was growing because of this lifestyle. That's our thing. That's why people need to come to the Bronx and experience it." But, be warned, "South Bronx Luxe" and "street glam" might take on a whole new meaning in seasons to come. As LaMaar's 9J has served as the perfect canvas for him to bring 5:31 Jérôme to life, it also has the opportunity and advantage to shapeshift into something entirely different at a moment's notice.
Homepage image: 9J interior shot. Photo: Jérôme LaMaar