The Bronx has long had a creative history. It's the home of hip hop and well known grafitti artists. A designer who was born in the Bronx hopes to add to that legacy. He's opened a boutique in the borough, in a neighborhood not associated with high fashion. Bronx reporter Erin Clarke filed the ollowing report..
A section of Port Morris in the South Bronx has long been touted as the next Williamsburg. Now, a new sign the neighborhood really is changing: A boutique selling designer clothes for $2,000 or more has just opened on Bruckner Boulevard.
It’s a marriage of SoHo chic, and the Boogie Down Bronx.
“There's something major that's about to happen here in the Bronx and I'm so grateful to be part of it … and to kind of be a pioneer," says Jerome Lamaar, the owner of the boutique, called 9J.
He started his fashion career at 15 working for Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat clothing line. The Fashion Institute of Technology grad now has a roster of big name clients, like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, and he advises major brands across the globe.
He also happens to be from the Bronx.
"We're in the beginning of my story which is Sack Wern Housing," he says, walking through the NYCHA development, which is just south of the Cross Bronx Expressway in the southeast Bronx.
Growing up in Soundview, he says, influenced Lamaar and his decision to set up shop in the borough.
"Living in such a rough, kind-of-gritty spot … really pushed me to want glamour."
While 9J sells items like eyewear and t-shirts that cost about $30, most of the clothes in the shop, including Lamaar's signature brand 5:31 Jerome, cost $200 to more than $2,000 - way beyond the reach of many people in the surrounding community, which is part of the state's poorest congressional district.
And that's one of the reasons Lamaar describes his store as a galletique -- a word he made up combining gallery and boutique. He wants the space to not only be place where people can shop, but also where the community can come and gather.
Lamaar says he's aware many residents cannot afford much of his merchandise. That's one reason he plans to open his doors for a kids movie night, and collaborate with a gallery next door in hosting community events.
"I hate when you go to a shop and they make you feel uncomfortable or they make you feel like you don't belong there, you don't have the money."
That won't be the case with his boutique, Lamaar says. He's hopeful it will be a positive for residents, and the neighborhood.