Jerome Lamaar’s Beyond Beyoncé Moment | In episode 62 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks to the multi-talented designer, creative strategist, and entrepreneur Jerome Lamaar.
Jerome Lamaar is a self-described polymath, creative strategist, futurist, and costume designer. He got his start working as a designer for Baby Phat while still in High School. The media likes to call this iconoclastic outsider from the Bronx ‘Beyonce’s designer’ because of the dress he created for Beyonce’s Black Is King movie. But he is so much more than that. Jerome joins us on Light Culture Podcast for an inspirational take on creativity, staying true to yourself, and not letting anyone put you in a box.
Jerome Lamaar describes himself as a polymath, creative strategist, futurist, and costume designer. The media likes to call him Beyonce’s designer because of his work on the Ivy Park Adidas line, and the teal masterpiece he created for Beyonce’s Black Is King movie. As a kid from the Bronx, Jerome got his first break at the age of fifteen when he was tapped by Kimora Lee Simmons to work at Baby Phat. His journey from there has been a circuitous route that has taken him in and out of the fashion world to find a place of his own, back to his roots in the Bronx, where he lives and often works. Along the way, he pioneered a look of luxury streetwear he called street glam that seemed ahead of its time. But what say you today, oh fashion world? [laughter] Seems like things have caught up to you. Welcome, Jerome Lamaar.
Thanks for having me. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. Looking forward to having our conversation. Of course, everyone, including me, wants to talk about Beyonce and you. [laughter] And we will get to that. But first, I’d like to get to know you better.
So let’s start with the word polymath, it’s the first word to use to define yourself, and it’s a very interesting word.
The dictionary says it’s an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. So why do you feel it’s important to highlight that on the top of your list of things that you do?
All of my clients that I deal with, they instantly start off by calling me a polymath. I didn’t know what a polymath was. [laughter] I’m like, “Uh. Okay.” You know, I know the shapes but I didn’t understand what a polymath truly meant from clients. This is like maybe five or six clients, they’re like, “You’re a polymath cause we need you for social media and…” So, it just stuck with me and I just kind of went with that. Simply because I am, you know? I got into Brown to study physics. My mind is just a little different than my siblings [laughs] and most of my friends. I just think very differently, analytically and in kind of matching and connecting dots in different ways allows me to dive deep into everything I do. So, whether it’s, color, for example. I’m a color expert. So, my whole world becomes immersive in color. Whether it’s using it or surrounding myself with it. It’s who I become. Whether it’s designing clothing or going into business strategy. Whatever it is. I really dive deep into it, and it becomes, for that moment in time, at least, who I am. Cause I change very rapidly. This is my thing, you know?
You said you were going to physics at Brown? You were gonna study physics, and that’s a kind of, yeah, circuitous path, as I described earlier
Yes. Completely. Most people have no idea. I’m a loner. And I like to be by myself and I like to think, before I make anything or do anything. My brain somehow does all the work. Whether it’s the minutest detail to the most macro concept, my brain does all of the work. And I can visually see it before I create anything, or work on any project, like I can see the dots or see the path. It’s just a weird kink that I’ve had since I was a kid.
It’s a gift, right?
It is definitely a gift. [laughs] And a curse. But it is a gift.
It’s a curse too. Yeah. Cause it made me think, does that make it difficult for you to work in larger situations
Like, you know, atelier or, these designers that have these huge staffs and teams working with them?
Yep. Yes. Which is why I work for myself. I left Baby Phat at the age of twenty-three, which was like ages ago. I’m thirty-five now. So when I left- and I had a high position there – I had to make a decision to work for someone else, which I have, I’ve worked and consulted for different people, but to be autonomous in my decisions and control my own destiny is what I had to go with. And I just can’t work in big groups. My siblings are my assistants sometimes, cause they know how I work, and I can do a look and they get it. I’m a nerd, in a way. [laughs] I’m a nerd.
So you don’t really fit in the corporate world in that way?
I don’t. But they hire me. [laughs]
They hire me to give them the crazy ideas, and then I leave.
Yeah. Several people I’ve spoken with had that experience, including myself, who had a hard time doing that and had to sort of, “Okay. Well, I’m just gonna go carve my own path and figure it out and do it differently.”
Yes. The meetings for a meeting for another meeting. It’s like, just get the job done. I discovered that while working at Baby Phat. I was a fifteen-year-old. I was a kid from- from fifteen to twenty-three that was the world, my universe. And, I learned a lot, you know? Like I worked directly under Kimora Lee Simmons and Tina Lee. I see that you had Kevin Leong?
Yes. Kevin was there.
Kevin Leong is part of the reason why I actually got a job so early on. Kevin and his ex, his former girlfriend, Tina Lee, ChrisTina , came to this high school Honors Society thing I was in- I went to an art and design high school. So, I was there, I was doing my thing, and I knew in my soul that I was gonna work for Baby Phat cause my mom was wearing Baby Phat at the time.
Oh, really? [laughs]
Yeah. Isn’t that weird, right? So she was like, “Oh yeah. It’s a new brand. It’s like Phat Farm but for women.” I was like, “Oh, it’s really cool.” And my mom was young, she was like in her thirties at the time. The craziest thing was I had just put in my mind that I was gonna work for Baby Phat. So my mind started doing its thing. Manifesting, like, making it come to life. So I started to see myself within this environment, which I never saw before until I got there and it was exactly how I envisioned it. So, long story short, Kevin went to this Honors Society program. He brought his girlfriend with him. And I was a fifteen-year-old kid who had to present to a panel of people. I was so- so crazy and so aggressive and so sure of myself at the time. And I basically stood up and was like, “This is what it is and da-da-da-da.” I was very confident. And I’m like, “I’m going to da-da-da-da.” Whatever. Didn’t even care who else was there, cause in my mind I knew I was gonna work for Baby Phat. Of course, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, their executives were in that room. And because I didn’t see their faces, I didn’t know, I didn’t care. But I knew Baby Phat was for me. So, we had to present with a big team of people, which is when I discovered I’m not good with working with a team of people. They were all seniors and college students. So I’m the youngest one in the group, and they’re like, “Oh, well, um, um…” So I took over the presentation.
Oh shit. Yeah?
Yeah. And then later on, we had our portfolios opened. And that’s when Tina and Kevin, Tina mainly, came around and she was like, “Who drew this?” And I’m like, “I did. Duh.” Like, I was a smart ass. And, she was like, “Kimora is looking for someone just like you.” And she handed me her card. It was a wrap.
That was it. So what were you wearing? Anything outrageous?
I always wear a white shirt. So my mind is so crazy that I like to dress very simply when I’m doing work or projects. Um. But when I’m out, I’m a different person. So- [laughs]
Watch out. [laughs]
Yeah. I was very simple. But, I’m very grateful because my parents allowed me to, one, take on that opportunity at age fifteen. They trusted me enough. They knew I was mature enough. They knew I was creative enough and that I really wanted to do this. So shout out to my parents for allowing me to just be me. Whether it was, playing basketball, or martial arts, or doing art, or doing science. Whatever it is. They just allowed me to be. And I think that’s what most parents should allow their children to be, you know?
And that includes your sexuality?
The funny part about that was, I didn’t officially know I was gay until I was eighteen. Cause I was so focused on my career and what I wanted to do in life, that I didn’t have time for boys or girls. [laughter] When I turned eighteen was the first time I was kissed, on the same day, by a guy and a girl. The same day, back-to-back. And I was like, “Well, okay, cool.” You know, I knew. I was like, “I don’t want to be with you. You’re beautiful.” To the girl. So that was the beginning of my adventure. So my dad is a military man. He has his PhD, his Doctorate, you know, all of this stuff. He’s a military man, very religious, very- very, very religious. Very, very heterosexual. And I ran away from him. I pushed him out of my life, cause I had thought he wasn’t going to be accepting of my sexuality. I’m kind of asexual, in a way. I have a fiance now, but my world is higher than that, in a way. My father and I just became very close. We look alike now. It’s a weird thing. But he always knew. He was like, “I was just waiting for you to come around and wake up. I will love you regardless.” And, you know, it’s hard. He’s from Harlem, he’s a black man, and I’m his first son. It’s a lot. And I didn’t want to, I guess, in a way, embarrass him. But at the same time, I was a star. I was doing larger than life things. I was travelling the world, I was winning awards. Being an overachiever was for him too, I thought to respect and validate me. But it turns out, none of that even mattered. [laughs]
Didn’t need it. You didn’t need it. [laughs] He was there for you all along.
Which is really, very sweet.
Yeah. You know, he was like, “Waiting for you.” So, it was cool.
Yeah. Smart man. Another thing on your list is creative strategist.
Putting on your creative strategist hat for a minute. What kind of conversation are you having now with major brands who are consulting with you? I know you’ve worked in the past with Tommy Hilfiger, etc. basically, you know, big, big, big companies. Right?
Big guys. Yeah.
So what are they asking you now? Are they all freaked out by the current situation?
I kept getting calls from clients asking what they should do. This is a small example. I advised not to post. Not say anything about- Cause if some clients don’t have that many minorities in their circle, in their roster. But I’m their black guy. You know, like unfortunately I’m the guy that they deal with, but I, you know, it’s neither here nor there, but it was my advice to guide them and say, “Hey. Wait a minute to post. You don’t have to post to be reactive. You don’t have to post to try to fit in. I know you guys hire people of color. But you guys don’t show it on your Instagram.” So my world becomes a mix of creative strategy and branding. I like to work from A to Z with clients. So whether it’s the color or the concept to who gets it, to how it’s presented, to how it hits social media. That’s where it comes in. And some clients have reached out to me recently. Most of them are reaching out to me because they like what I’m becoming. Now I’m being pushed in front more and more. Which is cool, but you know, it’s not what my world was before. Now they’re asking me to do posts and be more creative with our relationship. And I like it. Cause I have full control. [laughs]
It’s super interesting as a business model for young people who are finding it difficult to get the jobs they’re trying to get. Especially right now, you know, the situation isn’t so great. That, there is a way to do it as an independent, indie style.
And social media has certainly opened the door there for people who are good at that and expressing it.
And that’s a talent you have, clearly, to present yourself that way.
I have a relationship with a lot of brands, because I was a trend expert. That was my job after Baby Phat. People hired because I looked cool– I’m from the Bronx, right? So, I look different, but I also have that corporate background. I can illustrate what I’m talking about, I understand color theory, I understand art history the way that I would present myself was, that’s not gonna work because I don’t think it’s cool. So I was the cool guy.
Being a trend forecaster allowed me to move in these rooms, and be the guy that they all came to. I’ve been doing it for quite some time. The things I predicted have worked out. I don’t have a Midas touch but that’s what people say. They allowed me to come in the room and say, “Pick this person. This is your new designer. This is the best color. This-” And I just kind of leave and get a check. And I love that because it’s really just going off instinct.
[laughs] It’s a dream.
You know? It’s a dream. And it’s going off instincts and just know-how. And also studying. Like I don’t just like to guess. There’s a whole formula to it.
Yeah. The stuff has to come to you somehow, right?
Right. Right. It’s a lot of reading.
The polymath approach is, I’m sure, helpful here because you might be reading, history or art criticism, that has no real direct connection to trend forecasting. Cause it’s historic, let’s say, nothing about the future.
And then when you- when you connect those dots- So here’s the full circle. So, as I said, my world’s always been about connecting dots, since I was a kid. That’s why I like formulas. I’m obsessed with physics formulas. I think they’re so sexy. I’m weird. It is so pretty. But that’s, I think, how my brain works. I don’t know what it does, I can foresee how certain patterns can connect to X, Y, Z. And it’s been, knock on wood [knocks on wood], it’s been good. It’s been really successful. I haven’t had any problems. I’ve even used myself as a guinea pig most of the time, for example, I opened a store in the South Bronx, where I’m from, and people were like, “Why? Like, no one’s coming to the Bronx.” And I was like, “Well, people weren’t going to Brooklyn.” You know? I was like, “But now everyone’s in Brooklyn. It’s cool.” You know what I’m saying? So I’m gonna create my own world within the Bronx of how I see it. So I created a luxury boutique. I was in the hood with everyone, you know. I’m in the same area. I have a loft now, but the area’s developing like high rises and restaurants and you name it. It’s all coming here. It’s basically the new Dumbo. And it all happened from my store. Like I opened the store, my family helped me run it, and I basically was like, “Yo, I want to find new artists. I want to change the store like a mood board.” When people came to the store, every time, The New York Times, all these people, it looked completely different. I would paint walls. I would hire someone to build some crazy art. A completely different environment every month. It was- No funding. I was like going broke. But the vision was there. And I needed to make sure it got out. And I’m so glad I stuck with it, and it kept growing. It was supposed to be a popup shop,.but it turned out to be a two year venture that was the best and hardest chapter of my career. I’m grateful though.
Oh, it’s amazing.
I saw some photos of it and it makes me really wish that I could go.
So what happened? You had to close it?
Yeah. I closed it. I was getting depressed. I was like, “Listen. This wasn’t supposed to be two years. It was supposed to be just six months.” And- the landlord was like, “Hey, can you stay a little longer?” Developers started to visit. I got stuck, you know, and I was like, “Okay. They want me to stay longer, but this is not what I want to do.” I couldn’t travel to see clients. I couldn’t do my thing. You know? I couldn’t go to events, cause I was broke. And I was tired. I was open every single day. And if I’m not there, items wouldn’t sell. Because people would come up to see Jerome. You know?
Yep. That’s right.
And I’m like, “Bro, I have a meeting.” Like, and I had staff and I had people. But they wouldn’t buy anything unless I was there. I’m grateful for it. I had to close it down. Because it just wasn’t the big picture. So the way I work- I’m sorry, I’m going on.
No. Please continue. Yeah.
The way that my brain kind of works and I get excited about things, is every two years, like two year intervals, so I do everything in twos, not just two years. But whether it’s, two weeks, two months. I’m the second born, so it’s like a thing for me. I measure my success, or my growth, every two years. Like, “Okay. Was this path what I wanted?” And that allows me to pivot and change, and throw myself into something else. Like when I had the store, I was taking real estate classes, cause I was like–if everyone’s coming to the Bronx to buy up lots and things like that, I’m gonna also get a cut.” [laughs] I have all my credits. I just never took a test. Cause I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid if I take the test, I’m gonna be a real estate person. So, it’s just-
Yeah. You’ll get rich.
You’ll get supremely rich. [laughs]
I’m thinking that. I’m thinking that. I should have taken it. I should have done the test already. But that was actually two years ago. Which is funny, cause I closed the store in 2018. So now, 2020, I’ve pivoted into, I don’t like the term influencer, but I’m in this forefront of creative content. Which is what I said I needed to go back to doing, and I’m so grateful that I did. Let’s see what happens at the end of this year. [laughs] I’m moving into fashion, back into fashion design. Making my collection and things like that. Thanks to Beyonce.
Oh. You are?
So we’re gonna talk about Beyonce then, since you brought her up. The original visit that spurred her to make the costume was to that store that you’re referring to?
I’ve worked with Beyonce since 2013 when I started my brand 531.
And she wasn’t even like that Bey as she is now, right?
She was awesome then, too, of course.
Yeah. Now she’s, you know-
And she believed in me- Zerina, who was her stylist, she had just started with Beyonce. The reason why Beyonce and I even intertwined was because I gave up on my two year mark. I was like, “Okay. I’ve been doing this, my fashion line, I’ve been doing it for two years, nothing’s happened. Barney’s said they want to wait.” Barney’s out of business. “Jeffrey said they wanted to wait.” Jeffrey’s is out of business. You know what I mean? All these brands were like, “Well, we want to see- we want to wait a little longer.” I’m like, “Bro, I’ve been doing this for like two years. Like I went to Dubai and sold tons in Dubai. How come America’s being a bunch of dickheads to me?” I’m like, “I know I have something going on here. I’m doing street wear.” “I don’t get it.” Editors, “I don’t know. I don’t get it.” Buyers, “Um. We love this, but…” It was all this political stuff that made me turn my back on it.
After the meeting with Barney’s, I took my plum jacket with Swarovski crystals, and was like, “Yo. No one wants to buy it. They don’t understand it. Zerina, here. I’m gonna give you this. I’m gonna give you this this coat.” It was after I hit her up about a sweatshirt. I’m like, “Yo. Hey, how come Beyonce’s not wearing one of my sweatshirts?” And she was like, “Well, we don’t need sweatshirts. We need pieces.” So, I was like, “Okay. Well, then you can have this piece.” Dropped it off to her. The next day, she wore it to the Billboards event. Twice in one day. It was a wrap. That’s when my social media shifted. Everything started to change, and I was like, “I’m gonna sell direct to consumer through Instagram.” That was a wrap. And I did–this was 2013.
Yeah. That’s early.
So, I started selling directly to consumers through my Instagram, my DM. People were like, “I want this coat Beyonce’s wearing.” I’m like, “Cool. Twelve hundred bucks.” So I made so much money without having to go to a retailer. Which- Down the line- allowed me, well, which inspired me to start my own store. You get it? So all of that is connected.
Cause I was like, “I’m gonna be-” My intuition. “I’m gonna be the person that finds new designers, who gives them a chance.” Cause, you know, you need a stepping stone, you need opportunity. The brands weren’t giving me a chance. They were like, “We think you’re cute. We love what you’re doing. But we don’t know what to do with you.” So me opening the store in the South Bronx was me giving back to all the designers I respected. And just to open up a door to a different conversation. Like, why do we have to go through the same old guards to get to where we have to go in life? I’m on the outskirts of fashion because I don’t want to follow, I don’t want to kiss someone’s ass– I just don’t fit in. And I choose not to. I do my own thing, I wear what I want, I sew what I want, I work for who I want to with. And I keep it moving. Because I don’t want to be stuck in a box of trying to be fake. Or trying to fit into something- Mind you, I go to all the parties. I go to the CFDA awards. I’m there. But I’m not gonna kiss your ass, if you didn’t see me in the beginning, if you didn’t acknowledge the vision, you know… and this is so- I’m talking- I’m in the zone, I’m sorry. I’m in the zone, man.
That is exactly what Iris, Iris Apfel, said to me when I met with her. She said, “Jerome.” Cause she was like, “I wanted to meet you for a while. I’ve been seeing you, everyone’s been talking about you.” I wear glasses, like I usually have my big glasses. And she was like, “Do your thing. And when they discover you, and when they see what you’re doing, give them hell.” And so, that is a quote I keep in the back of my mind. Because she was in the same boat. Like she was doing her own thing, doing her interiors. They didn’t believe in her- her MET presentation of her amazing collection of accessories, and now everyone knows Iris because she did her own thing for so many years, and she became larger than life at the age of ninety-nine.
Right. You know, if you have to live that long it’s, you know, better get it earlier if you can.
I’m grateful for those relationships that empowered me to just kind of do my own thing. I think that’s what more designers need to understand. Put the politics aside and, you know, make genuine connections with people and let it just flourish and grow, and that’s why I have these clients. Because these were genuine connections. I’m very transparent, as you can see, [laughs] I love life. I love people. I love creatives. And I’m genuinely looking for people to be thinking differently.they want to challenge the norm, and they don’t want to be a basic bitch. If that makes sense. I’m sorry, I’m cursing. But there’s this whole basicness and sameness that everyone’s trying to be, instead of being themselves. And I think that’s where we’re lacking. We have a President that is lackluster. We have people who are doing a half-ass shortcut to things. And that’s the world we’re in. And I choose not to be a part of that. I want you to feel some kind of way when I walk into a room. Because I’m working for it. You know what I’m saying? I want you to understand I wake up at 4 AM everyday, and I’m working. You know? That’s who I am. And I don’t care if you don’t get me, I don’t care if I’m not invited to these events. I’m doing my own things, and I have a hot, uh, fat freaking bank account. You know what I’m saying? I’m good. I’m investing into things. I want to be a venture capitalist one day, and find new talent that is doing something new. Whether it’s in technology or print, or design. Whatever it is. I just want to find the future.
That was great. Yeah. It makes me think about something that you wrote. Because in your Instagram, it’s not just selling products, right?
You’re also telling, uh, you know, dropping some science, talking about your experiences. You were writing something about, Covid and encouraging people not to get down. You saw that some good things could come out of this.
Is this something you had to consult with your clients on as well?
And then also, the second part of that would be, would you talk to your fans, which is a whole different group of people, right?
Yeah. It’s crazy. The reason why I even made a statement about any of it was because there was so much confusion, a lot of death. I had Covid. I was actually travelling while it was happening, and didn’t realize what was going on. Cause they were saying, “Oh. It’s fine. Ah!” It’s so crazy. I wanted to give some clarity to the situation. Right? Here’s how I see it. 2020, my two’s, right? We’re in a whole new cycle. We’re in a whole new decade. And we need something new. We needed this collapse, this shift and this, transformation to happen. So my job was to give clients the light at the end of the tunnel. Like, “Hey. This is your time to wake up.” Everything has collapsed. Like the whole system has been dropped. Now what are you gonna do to make it newer, cooler? Now you can reinvent your brand’s image. Now you can actually tap into that new talent that you was iffy about. But now this is your opportunity to actually start anew. So 2020 was meant to be a new cycle. We just didn’t look at it as that, but now we have to. We’re forced to. And I can’t wait to see what happens in the next ten years, look at how we’re working. We’re doing digital conversation and we’re social distancing, and all this other stuff. It’s a whole new way of looking at our planet, and ourselves, our health. And our economy, as well. I think it’s very important that we look at it with optimism.
With the corporate clients, as well? Do you tell the corporate clients the same thing?
I do. And I kind of force them to really look outside the box. Now you have to. You can’t just be stuck in your old ways. You have to change. And if you don’t, Tom, Dick, and Harry’s gonna surpass you. And they’ve listened. A lot of them have listened. And I’m very, very happy that they reached out to me to even ask for clarity. And my post- Whenever I post to my followers, it’s to let them know that I’m going through it too. Although I had a really, pretty cool Covid. Cause this is how I’ve been working for so many years, also. Like meeting up with clients on Zoom. Or Google Meet. Whatever it is.
I’ve been doing this for so long, that now it’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, welcome to my world.” You know, I’m a loner. I don’t want to see people.” I’d rather be home with my fiance making food, sleeping, reading, drawing, whatever it is. I get to do that. So it hasn’t really interrupted my flow. And I’m very grateful for that. I tell both clients and my followers, “Yo. Change. This is your opportunity to challenge your old norms to create something that can be new and relevant for the next decade.”
And social media, I wanted to talk about that a little bit more, as well. Authenticity is a real thing. You have it, obviously. I can see it, and it comes through. But then, at the same time, you’ve also become an influencer, which means you get paid to do certain things on Instagram, as well. You’re doing this thing with Google Pixel, for example.
Yes. My people. [laughter] So- So, listen- Yeah, go ahead. Sorry. Finish your question. I’m sorry.
No. I was just gonna say do you worry at all that that’s gonna affect your relationships with your audience when they start doubting your authenticity, or if they start doubting it?
When I had the store in 2015, I was actually the face of Samsung. International face of Samsung. Didn’t know what an influencer could possibly be, but they paid me so much money to film my life and da-da-da. I love technology. I go to CES and I’m absorbing all the information and all of that. I love technology. And so, when I was taken from Samsung to Google, it was perfect. Because I’m not an Apple guy. I’m an Apple guy when it comes to everything else, like my laptop. But when it comes to my phone, I have always been an Android, Samsung kind of user. And people know this is my world. I think iPhones are toys. Cause they get all the information and all the technology later. I’m a futurist. I want to be able to drop my phone in water and not worry about it. I can do all those things with an Android phone and not worry about having to wait to go to the Genius lab for things. So all my Apple things have been messing up. I have an iPad, which I use to illustrate. But not with my phone. My phone is a Google, well it was Samsung before. But people know I love it. I was picking it up before everyone else was into it, you know? And now it’s become like a thing. And that’s why now they’re like, “Oh, we need you.” Because I’m not thick with it. And I’m gonna let them know like, “Listen. I’m not gonna post that way. Cause it’s not authentic to me.” I’m very vocal with them. I’m not posting that. I don’t post food pics. I’m posting it the way I want to post it. Here’s my copy. I feel like my clients will like- my followers will like it. And hopefully you approve it. And the relationship- I’ve been with them for about two years now and I love it.
Okay. So- What about-
It’s authentic for me. Go ahead.
The Slime Museums then?
Yeah! My niece. So that’s from my niece.
I’m friends with Karen who created Sloomoo, the institute, which is for slime. She originally just wanted my niece to do it. Who is super precocious. So smart and funny. And we did it here. And she was like, “Try it.” And I was like, “I will try it. I will try it. I’m gonna try-” It did something to me that I was like, “Oh. Let’s do this.” If I love something enough, and my niece was actually inspiring me. I never played with slime, ever. I’m not a slime guy. To me, it was disgusting. But to see how, sensorial it was from the way it smelled to the way it, um, just my brain did something while I was playing with it. And I was like, “Wow. This is something I think most people need.” And then my friend, Karen, who created it was like, “Yeah. It’s for mental health.” Like it helped them- So many people get out of depression and I see why. And I was like, “Oh wait. We gotta do this for my followers, so they can just get this ASMR experience.” Which I love. I watch that to go to sleep. Um. Like all the [makes ASMResque noise] all of that stuff. But it was really interesting to engage my own senses for something that I never, ever experienced in a very organic way.
That’s sweet. You mentioned your niece, who’s three-years-old and has an Instagram account. Right?
So how do you feel about children and social media? Like, for example, I have children. They’re grown up pretty much at this point. I always hesitated putting their pictures on because, first of all, I felt like, well, what right do I have to do that without their permission?
And they’re really too young to give their permission.
A lot of people have that attitude about keeping their children- Not just because, you know, they’re gonna get kidnapped or celebrity concerns that people have. But in general, do you have any thoughts on that?
So we started it right before she was born.
[laughs] That’s early. That’s early.
So her Instagram, you know, we got her handle and everything. So her name is Journey Li, L-I. She’s learning Korean. She’s learning Chinese, Mandarin, and all this other stuff, because I know the future. And so, we made a deal, my whole family, to prepare her for that. As a mixed-race, racially ambiguous young lady, she needs to be ready for whatever’s to come. So we grabbed her social media. Her mom runs it. Um. And we curate it to make sure that it’s cool, because she’s getting endorsements from Nike and things like that on her own. So whatever money she gets, we put it into an account. We have a little trust that we’re building. I mean, I’m a Bronx dude. I’m from the Bronx and we want to build some kind of legacy. And I’m seeing- we’re seeing how it’s helped me. I’ve always had the opportunity to be in front of cameras and in magazines. It’s the same thing as being a child model, but now you have social media, and you’re actually getting paid, actually, more. We don’t force her into anything. But she knows the camera. She knows how to use her phone and everything. She’s gonna be four this month. And she wants to start her own YouTube. And I’m like, “Okay. Cool.” And so, that video was when she said that, the slime videos, where she turned to us and said, “I want to start a YouTube channel.” And we were like, “Okay. Well then, we’ll- we’ll do it. We’ll help you.”
Watch out. Yeah, she might wind up being your meal ticket at the end of the day.
[laughs] Yeah. Exactly. And she takes direction well. She has her own personality. She would not be allowed to do any of these things, if she wasn’t doing the work. I’m the disciplinarian. Her father’s not in their life. So I’m her uncle. Uncle Jerome. I’m very keen on making sure that she’s advanced. She knows how to read, she knows how to spell, she’s learning how to write her letter proper, but she knows how to count to a thousand. She’s a smart child. She learned what precocious meant. She’s learning at a very rapid rate, and we want to just make sure that “Cool you’re learning. But we want you to have fun too at the same time.” So she wants to do YouTube, she gets to do a YouTube with one of us in it. Like we’re gonna be in it. It’s the future. We have to think about that. There’s so many kids who are doing unboxings and making millions of dollars.
You grew up in the Bronx. And, other fashion designers, like Calvin Klein and-
Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Mickey Drexler.
So what is it about the Bronx? If you had to describe the Bronx to people, what would you say?
Yeah. It’s the most diverse. It is a true community. We had to deal with so many things, before I was born of course. I inherited a different Bronx from everyone else, right? What I remember the most growing up was learning the difference between a Chinese person, Japanese person, and a Korean person, because all of which was in my school. And you don’t just say, “They’re Asian.” You know, you don’t disregard people in that way. And I think growing up in that environment, in an environment that was so diverse in a very organic way, if you think about it, you could look on the train and you see everyone from Italians, to Armenians, to whoever it is on the train from the Bronx into the city. I didn’t think that the rest of the world would see it as such a, tough place – it is a tough place – but at the same time, with that toughness is a lot of beauty. And I think that’s why I opened that store. I had to show like, “Yo. You think it’s just about graffiti and breakdancing, but you don’t know like there’s so much cool art and culture, and flavor, that comes from the Bronx that has contributed to American culture.” But people disregard that. From hip hop, you know what I mean? To what American fashion really is, with Ralph Lauren and- and J. Crew, you know, Mickey Drexler. And- and he did the Gap. All these things are America. Calvin Klein. That’s America. You know? And I think my role in this form, at this time, is to redefine what America is. I’m not a Jewish older man, I’m a Afro-Latino black African-American mixed- Whatever you want to call me. I am this guy who is from the Bronx. I feel more comfortable walking through the projects than I do sometimes in the middle of the city. Which is crazy to say, but it’s true. I don’t feel, um, like an outcast. Like there were times I would wear the craziest outfits, and I would be looked at like, “Oh, wow! You’re cool!”
You know what I mean?
But then, “Do you want to play basketball?” He could play basketball too. Like I’m that guy who just loves life that much. But the city, New York City, Manhattan, itself, is full of people who are transplants from their small towns, wherever they’re from, and they come to New York City with this idea that they have to be rude or mean, or a obnoxious or- and not say thank you, and not hold doors, and be racist. And I didn’t have that experience growing up. I’m very optimistic, I’m very happy. I genuinely love people. But the moment that I feel that people who are not from New York start giving us attitudes, I’m a total asshole.
[laughs] Then you become a real New Yorker.
A real New Yorker. You know what I mean? Like you don’t have no right. I was a fifteen-year-old when 9/11 happened. I was a kid when I saw those towers crash. I saw the people running. I knew the old New York. I knew how the piers looked. It was a different New York. And then you see these young, these new- I’m saying young people. Wow. But when you see people coming from who knows where, their small towns, and they’re the cool ones in their small towns. And they’re, “I’m fabulous in my small town.” And they come to New York City and they think that mentality works here, but that’s not how we work. You know? And as fabulous as I am, I know that I’m from New York and I’m flamboyant in my own way. I’m loud. I talk pretty loud, I mean, I’m yelling into the mic right now. I am genuinely just myself and I don’t have to put on an extra show for anybody. That’s part of the reason why, I’m gonna say this again, why some people in the fashion industry don’t know what to do with me. Because I’m genuinely like, “What’s next? What’s new? How are we gonna do this? Like, I wanna see this. Here’s my new idea. These are new ideas.” I’m never gonna stop. Because I was raised that way. And I was given the opportunity and the tools to see the world in such a great way. Whether it’s through art, science, math. All that stuff was given to me, and it was made fun so I could experience life and- and travel the world, and do whatever it is I want to do. And I want my niece to have that same thing. So that goes back to your other question, of like why the social media. I think because it’s an opportunity that most people wish they did when they were younger.
And just before closing, I’d like to talk a little bit about streetwear, and this whole idea of glam streetwear. Which we know has become common now, right? Because the fashion world has embraced it. We know Dapper Dan is now sponsored by Gucci because, you know, they had to. They couldn’t, you know, pretend anymore that, uh, they weren’t ripping him off. Where does that leave you? And how does your new collection, which you talked about earlier-
What should we look forward to there?
I use 531 as a testing site for a lot of ideas that people either never experienced or venture to. So when I did the- the street glam luxury streetwear thing, this is before Off-White, a lot of people- were all stuck in doing something else. They weren’t doing what I’m doing.. And it was natural, Cause I worked at Baby Phat and then I worked for Ralph Rucci, and I wanted to show that this is how we are dressing. This is how the real world is. Like we are, you know, we love a hoodie and like some great looking shoes, and we want to live our life through, a casually luxurious way. So when I presented that to editors, they didn’t get it. Now it’s happening. So where it leads me now, is to just keep pushing the envelope in different ways. I’m playing with alchemical references, and spirituality, and things that people feel are very taboo, in a way. To come back with a brand that feels significant, for the next chapter that we’re gonna enter. I know now that I don’t have to worry about what retailers or editors are asking for. Excuse me. Because I don’t need them now. I don’t need to be in a retail store. I was in Dover Street Market. Shout out to Dover Street Market for getting it, the vision. I don’t need to fit into anyone’s mold of what they think my brand should fit into. It can change, it can be whatever it is. I’m gonna release it when I want to. And I’m gonna make money from it, because my followers want things from me. And that’s where I’m at. So I’m making menswear. It’s gonna be all menswear. It turns out, the people who follow me are mostly men. [laughs] Straight men. So, um, all the sudden I was doing dresses and like all this sparkly, glamorous, you know, like, “Wow! It’s so pretty!.”
The people who follow me are men. I’m a sneakerhead. So, I didn’t realize that whenever I’d post about sneakers or my world that I’m in, I’ll get male followers. And so, now after looking at the analytics, I’m like, “Oh snap!” I have sixty percent men from all over the world, who’re like, you know- Cause I’m a Tomboy. I’m a Tomboy. That’s what I call myself. That’s what my family called me too. I love basketball, I love sports,I love beautiful things, I love everything. So my world is gonna reflect that, and it’s gonna be menswear. It’s gonna be very wearable. I’m excited. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know if people are gonna react well to it. I don’t know if they’re going to even love it. But, um, I’m gonna just do it. Cause eventually, they’ll come full circle. Like everything else.
Yeah, man. Thank you so much, Jerome Lamaar. I’m really looking forward to seeing that collection myself.
Yes. Don’t worry, once it’s out, once it’s ready, I’ll send you a whole look book and everything.
Maybe a sweatshirt too. [laughs]
Ah. Sweet. Alright. I’ll wear it, man. I’ll put it on Instagram, okay? [laughs]
Yes. Please. Please.
Alright. Thank you so much.
Thank you guys for having me.