There isn’t any one way to be a designer any more — just ask Jerome LaMaar.
Having spent the better part of the past year pitching in with Beyoncé’s Ivy Park line for Adidas, LaMaar is creative directing Alife New York’s upcoming streetwear, developing an interactive digital experience for the new Bronx Children’s Museum, mentoring students at the Savannah College of Art and Design, talking with Netflix about prospective projects and writing a book. In an interview Tuesday, the 34-year-old said, “I’m doing a lot. My life now is way above just the fashion industry. I want to continue to push the boundaries to say, ’Hey, I’m more than just a designer.’ I think more scientifically about how these dots are connecting to empower the culture in a new, creative way. I’m always pushing myself to do something totally different or the opposite. But [I] still want to remain true to myself, which is the roots of fashion, style, concept and culture.”
Like much of what he does, the more elevated brand that he is creating for Alife is a derivative of who he is. The “more premium, fashion silhouettes along with streetwear, footwear and everything else” will be unveiled during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June. LaMaar said, “It’s never been done by them. But I’ve known them for so long, I’ve supported the brand and I love the history of it. It’s been around for 20 years, which is so crazy. So I want to breathe new life into that.”
As a student at the Art and Design High School, Kimora Lee Simmons’ assistant scouted him and before long he was working for Simmons at Baby Phat. “That was pre-social media, pre-everything — before the Kardashians had a reality show,” he said, adding that he worked on the brand’s fashion shows and licensing, too. “I basically grew up there. I left in 2008 and started my own world, doing trend forecasting for a long time.”
In 2013, he started 5:31, his own glammed-up streetwear label, and two years later in the South Bronx he opened 9J, a pop-up shop that turned into a real retail commitment. After a three-year run in February 2018, he closed the store. “That was when, [I decided] ‘OK, I’ve gotta leave, I’ve gotta breathe.’ I was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait. This was supposed to be a three-month pop-up. This was not the plan. There is a bigger picture. So I closed up shop and started doing more creative consulting, traveling and working with brands in different ways.”
While many designers dream of dressing Beyoncé, LaMaar has done so several times. He also has suited up the Grammy winner’s mother Tina Knowles Lawson, who returned the favor four years ago by Instagramming a photo of herself in one of his 5:31 looks and encouraging people to “Check out this young talented designer.” His story with Beyoncé goes “waaaay back,” since she was “the first celebrity to ever wear his brand,” LaMaar said. Her 35th birthday party and the announcement of the Adidas partnership at Coachella were some of the occasions when she wore his designs. As one of the contributing creative directors for the Ivy Park and Adidas collection, he explained, “My role was to basically design the line and help them tell Beyoncé’s story. It was really quite fun. There were two or three of us.”
His 575,000 Instagram followers have attracted brands for others reasons. “It’s so great because I’ve saved up great money, I’ve been working on awesome things. My Instagram has been really helpful, as well where I can do influencer-ish things, partner with brands and just keep the flow of creativity going and challenging people to stay optimistic.”
For the next few weeks, LaMaar’s focus will be on costume design for the Miami run of “As Much As I Can,” a play dedicated to raising awareness about HIV and AIDS with people of different races. The costumes for next month’s stint in Miami will be different than the ones he created for the play’s stay at Joe’s Pub last fall. “I try to read the script and bring each character to life through the clothing. I’m a fashion designer and I love culture. So I try to apply my understanding of the basic culture — being a man of color — and how it can read well on stage,” LaMaar said.
Too “superstitious” to disclose the shows he is in talks with for Netflix, the Bronx-born LaMaar was more open about the children’s museum project. The characters he is designing are meant to inspire children to dance however they choose — “different things from merengue, hip-hop — whatever it is — the essence of the Bronx,” he said. “It’s going to become a digital environment called ‘The Cloud’ that will be part of the new children’s museum in the South Bronx.”
Recently named one of the youngest trustees at the Bronx Museum of Arts, he will co-chair its March 2 gala. “I’m giving back to my community in my own little creative ways, but it is a totally bigger conversation than what it was before. It’s not just about the clothes, but, ‘How do we give back to our community through education, creativity and all of those bigger picture things?’ I really do believe that all of these projects will tie in to something much greater than myself by the end of this year.”