How a Fashion Designer Created an Urban Oasis in the South Bronx

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The installation took ten days — scattered over a two-month period, due to the weather — and the results are stunning. Photo: Seth Caplan/Seth Caplan

Fashion designer and entrepreneur Jérôme LaMaar recently celebrated the first anniversary of his South Bronx “gallotique” 9J, which we named Best Bronx Boutique, where he sells everything from Technicolor artwork to embroidered T-shirts. The anniversary festivities included the unveiling of 9J’s outdoor lounge, designed by husband-and-wife team Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, of Bronx studio AphroChic.

When fashion designer and entrepreneur Jérôme LaMaar (@9jbx), who interned for Kimora Lee Simmons at 15 years old, opened his store 9J at 41 Bruckner Boulevard last April, he dubbed it a “gallotique”: part gallery, part boutique. LaMaar first threw his energy into renovating the interior of the space, a former antiques store. The backyard remained neglected until recently, when Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason of AphroChic came aboard to transform the outdoor area into a lively extension of the indoor 9J space.

“The project began in early February, as a partnership with Lowe’s,” Hays says. “We have worked with the home-improvement store before on some stunning makeover projects, but this was our first outdoor renovation. When Jérôme mentioned that he had a need for the outdoor space to be fixed up, we saw a diamond in the rough.” After cleaning up the outdoor area and leveling the dirt, the sub-floor foundation, seen here, was installed.

Hays and Mason had a budget of less than $5,000 for materials, so the duo focused on wood and paint. “With enough wood and paint, you can make just about anything happen,” Mason says. “Having over 300 pieces of wood delivered on a busy New York thoroughfare was definitely a challenge.” Hays adds: “It’s safe to say that we made no friends that day.”

Photo: Seth Caplan/Seth Caplan

The installation took ten days — scattered over a two-month period, due to the weather — and the results are stunning. “The biggest part of the vision was the floor tile,” Hays says. “We wanted to have a big statement that took the space beyond being a backyard and made it into something else. Jérôme is a person with big ideas, so we knew that he would have two dozen uses in mind for the space.”

Photo: Seth Caplan

For the anniversary party, held a few weeks ago in April, friends and family packed onto LaMaar’s newly minted patio to enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. LaMaar’s fiancé, John Goodman, created the art piece over the table.

“This exceeded my vision by far,” LaMaar says of the magical transformation performed by Hays and Mason. A Bronx native, LaMaar, pictured here, always dreamed of opening his own store. He now has it, including the outdoor lounge where he wants people to linger, drink tea and Champagne, read books, and listen to music. “That is why I created the store,” he says. “It’s kind of like cultivating culture, is what I like to say.”

How a Fashion Designer Created an Oasis in the South Bronx