Among other things, 2020 has been hell for advanced dressing. And, accordingly, it’s been rough on young designers. How do you break out if there are none of the events—premieres, fashion shows, and so on—where celebrities feel the need to show out?
One answer? Beyoncé. With the debut of Black Is King on Disney+, the fashion industry, alongside the rest of the world, paid close notice as Beyoncé flaunted a series of notable looks. One—a bejeweled turquoise trench dress with a corset top, paired with boxing gloves, slim glasses, and a gele-inspired headpiece—came from the designer Jerome Lamaar.
And while it may seem that a cameo in a Beyoncé music video would be a breakout moment for any designer, this isn’t the first time he’s worked with the superstar. The embellished body-suit she wore to her 35th birthday party was Lamaar’s. The pink nylon tracksuit she wore at her Coachella party was his too. Way back to 2014, Beyoncé was the first celebrity to wear a piece from his fashion line, 5:31 Jerome. But the grand honor of dressing Queen B has not lost its luster. “I mean, it’s still Beyoncé,” Lamaar says, “I’m honored that her team still thinks I’m worthy.”
The 35-year-old Bronx native stepped into the fashion game at the ripe age of 15, when he joined Kimora Lee Simmons at Baby Phat. Lamaar founded his ultra-glam womenswear brand, 5:31 Jerome, in 2013, and would open up the Bronx’s first luxury storefront two years later. While at an Opening Ceremony party in “either 2013 or 2014,” he met Beyonce’s personal stylist, Zerina Akers, who would eventually be the bridge between the mega-superstar and his fashion line.
Lately, though, he's been expanding his reach. “I’m obsessed with tech,” he says as a nod to his past and present collaborations with brands like Samsung and Amazon. “Because I’m all about the future.” And aside from supporting Bronx artists as the youngest Trustee of the Bronx Museum of Art, he's also zeroed in on a new domain: menswear. He knows that his brand will combine his collective experiences in the fashion industry and his love for the Bronx. There are still a lot of details that he says need to be figured out, but two things are certain: first, that his line is slated to launch around February 2021 through a direct-to-consumer model. Second, while the world has slowed down for everyone else, things remain full speed ahead for Jerome Lamaar.
GQ: Let’s start with the beginning. How’d you land Baby Phat at 15?
Jerome Lamaar: Well, I loved Baby Phat early on because I saw my mother wear a plum Baby Phat shirt that had the iconic crystals on it. My first job ever was at Key Foods in the Bronx and I would sketch on people's receipts and say ‘This job is cute, but I’m gonna work at Baby Phat.’
While I was a student at the Institute of Art + Design in New York, Christina Lee, who at the time was the VP of Branding at Baby Phat, saw my sketches and asked, “Who did these?” I thought, “Me, duh.” and when I mentioned that they were mine she said, “Because Kimora is looking for someone just like you.”
Yes, manifesting! So what did they have you do?
Well, I was an intern for a year, and then I was the Junior Creative Director and brand coordinator. So, I reported directly to Kimora. I used to even watch the kids.
But workwise, I was the guy who cruised the streets and reported back on what I saw and what I thought was cool. I was the one saying, “No, not this shade of blue. No, this needs to be here.” I even took part in the production of Kimora’s reality show.
Funny story: while I was working for Kimora, I saw Kim Kardashian at a party in L.A. Now, this was before her moment so I had no idea who she was. But she was wearing Herve Leger and Louboutin heels and the only other person who was dressing like that was Kimora herself. So I ran over to Kim and gave her a little spin and said ‘You are giving JLo the run for her money’ When she told me her name, it went one ear and out the other. And now she’s Kim Kardashian.
Ok, so fast forward to now. Is it fair to say you’ve spent most of your career in fashion and design on the advisory side?
Oh, yeah. I’ve played the role of guiding and directing for many years. I started out in trend forecasting, so I’ve always been the guy who people come to for advice, color, concept.
And I love it. Working with amazing companies and people who are always looking ahead. But, you know, with all this experience, I’m just ready to offer the Jerome perspective and call it my own. I’ve always been brave enough to walk into any situation and own it enough to make others feel that they can execute a plan. But now I’m ready to say, ‘I can design. I can direct. I have a dope aesthetic, I’ve fixed my timing (clicks tongue) and now I’m ready.’
Does the transition to “I’m ready” come out of frustration, or is it a trust-in-the-universe kind of thing?
Trust in the universe, baby, that’s how I flow. My brand is 5:31, which is based on time. The timing of everything is important to me. I thought I was ready before, but now I know for a fact that whatever I’m putting out there next will be significant. I’ve built my following. I’ve earned the respect of many of my peers in the fashion industry. I have a peculiar perspective that people seem to like.
And now I’m focusing on menswear. It’ll be fluid—like hoodies and tuxedo shirts. I can choose one or the other depending on what I’m feeling and I want that to reflect in my brand.
How do you think that’s different from a lot of fashion now?
I’ve always been the bridge. Period. I’m from the Bronx but I’d be the person to fly to Monte Carlo. I’d take what I see from around the world and apply it to my consumers in the Bronx.
Can you elaborate on how this will translate over to your upcoming menswear line?
I want to mix things up and down. A mix of loungewear and really high luxury-wear. It’ll reflect a real wardrobe, not a certain singular aesthetic. Someone can see a collection and buy the whole thing and be set for every occasion. When my womenswear brand came out, I called myself the creator of “street glam.” I brought extravagance and glamour to what I saw people wearing on the streets in the Bronx, and I want to bring that essence to men.
There’s a lot of talk about streetwear phasing out of fashion. Being from and finding so much influence in the Bronx, what does that mean to you?
A: Those people don’t live their life on the street. Because Virgil [Abloh] tapped into it, people are thinking it’s going to be a phase. But, joke’s on them. Streetwear was here before fashion acknowledged it and it’ll be here after. It's functional. It’s what we need. It’s what we are living in. It’s not going away. It’s just going to shift.
The idea of what “ghetto” used to be is what high fashion is today. Let’s be real with it. That’s why I'm sticking to my guns for my upcoming menswear brand because fashion is following what they're seeing, where? On the streets.
Who are your muses for this line, if not yourself?
Everyone knows that I love Pharrell. I met him once and word-vomited. And, mind you, I’ve dressed everybody. I was so embarrassed.
But that’s how influential he is to me. He was hip hop, but it wasn’t limited to just a baggy jersey. He dressed a way I can relate to. That’s definitely an image that I want to put into the brand.
So Beyoncé is the first celebrity to wear Jerome 5:31 womenswear?
Twice in one day, actually.
In 2014, I was meeting with Jeffrey’s and Barney’s on the same day. They were like, “We love your brand and everything you’re doing. We love the Swarovski crystals and embellishments, but we just don’t know if the consumers will get it.”
So, I took the plum jacket in the collection and dropped it off with [stylist] Zerina [Akers] at Beyoncé’s house and said, “Here’s this jacket. Nobody gets it.”
And Beyoncé wore it the next day at the Billboard awards.
And what happened?
My Instagram following exploded. People loved the jacket and started asking me for custom pieces via DM. So, I started taking a direct-to-consumer approach to my brand.
Like so many fashion labels are shifting towards now.
So if Queen B can see and love your vision early on, do you think the industry was just not ready for it back then?
They weren’t. They were not ready. And that’s okay!
This is so crazy that we’re talking about it, but when I met Malcolm Gladwell, he called me an outlier. I didn’t understand at the time, but after I read this book it made total sense. And he was right.
You know, I respect the old guards in fashion graciously, but I can’t keep waiting for them to give me attention. Because, if I waited for them, I’d be sitting here as a broke designer. I was never broke from the beginning, but you know. I will never go back to that formula of trying to get the attention from the old vanguard or having to make minimums for boutiques.
How do you stay mentally in the game? I feel like a lot of people would be frustrated when one party says, “I love your work” and another says, “I just don’t get it.”
You know, my spirit animal is a phoenix. I have the ability to transform into something bigger and better.
Four years ago, Iris Apfel told me after my one-year anniversary of my store in the Bronx, “They’re never gonna get you. But I get who you are because we are similar birds. When they finally do discover you, you give them hell for not discovering you earlier.”
It helps that you’re financially self-sufficient.
Right. I mean, again, I was chasing for the big brands like Jeffrey’s and Barney’s, but I just can’t wait on people to acknowledge me like I did in the beginning. They liked me, they thought I was the next big thing. You know how style.com had a next big thing? I was there every season for four seasons. How many seasons am I gonna be the next big thing?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on GQ