Harlem’s Jonathan Bodrick Born To Style

born-jonathan-DThe owner of a vintage boutique in Harlem shares his wit and wisdom on the new reality series B.O.R.N. to Style.

B.O.R.N., the eclectic Harlem-based New York City boutique, would be nothing without its boss, stylist Jonathan Bodrick. He and his team are the subject of FYI’s new “lifestyle makeover” series, B.O.R.N. to Style. Bodrick and his “style superheroes” will arrive at the door of those men and women who desperately are in need of some “color in their lives.” After confronting their client’s (and rifling through their closets), the team at B.O.R.N. will come up with a stylish solution and transform them—beyond just mere looks. So what does it take to get the confidence to be a style doctor? Out‘s Fashion and Market Editor Michael Cook caught up with the irrepressible Bodrick to discover his style inspirations, tips for finding your next vintage piece, and where all that creative courage comes from.

Out: I would love to start actually with what you were saying to me earlier just about the genesis of the shop and what “B.O.R.N.” means.

Jonathan: B.O.R.N. is an acronym for borrowed, old, refurbished, and new—so I mix the new with the old. That’s how I grew up. I love vintage. I’ve collected since I was 9. I always loved the modern designers; I feel like we always should have respect for the past. That’s what we do here. We’re right in the heart of Harlem, right here on 125th St. between Lenox and Fifth Avenue. We have a lot of churches up here, so we do have a few come and see a few church hats: Hallelujah!

How did you decide to open a store and do what you do now?”

I was working with my brother. He has a production company, and we were shooting videos for celebrities. Every time we were doing a red carpet event, people would always mention vintage. Like, “Who’s your dress? Who’s this or whatever?” And I’ve always collected vintage. We have a studio in the South Bronx, and we rented it out for events or photo shoots. I proposed to my brother: “Why don’t I do shopping parties?” So I just gathered up all my things and finds—he even invested in some pieces—and I called a few friends, and we started doing shopping parties in the South Bronx in a warehouse. It worked for a while; it was great! People came, but it was only a hobby for me.

When I came to Harlem, they embraced me and I loved it.

Then I spoke to my mentor about it, and I explained it was only one stop away from Harlem, and she said, “I think that’s one stop too many. It’s about location, location, access.” When I came to Harlem, they embraced me and I loved it. I don’t think I could’ve done what I’m doing now in Brooklyn. It’s so much competition: Brooklyn is very vintage, very earthy, very Bohemian. But Harlem was just very urban.

Then a group of my friends came—so the energy was like a party. JJ came, and Terry has always been with me, then Christian, Devon, and Brandon. And it’s fun! When people say you can’t work with friends or family, I say that’s not my experience. You need people that have your back, that trust you. My whole team has shown me on occasions that they believed in me a lot of times when I stopped believing in myself. And this is their thing as well it is mine.

People used to come in and say, “Oh my God, you guys are so great! You guys are so funny! I love the energy here, it should be a show!” They told me that from the beginning.

I can tell right now that you’re dressed fabulously today. You’ve got style: Where do you find your own personal inspiration?

My dad, my grandfather. My father always had hats, they had cigars and drove big cars. They were entrepreneurs, My uncles, they just talked a lot of stuff in the pool hall and played cards downstairs in the basement and you see the fashion. The women were more, well my mother’s more conservative, but my father was just very out there. It was ties, it was a blazer. Meanwhile he did construction, welding and his thing was, if you looked at him, you would never know that he did that. He always carried a briefcase. He always had on a blazer. I guess that’s how they were raised. It’s more like to look a certain part. They came here from the South. It wasn’t easy for them; I can imagine back there in the ’60s, but it was all about owning, ownership, entrepreneurship — it was that. It was this piece of the pie just like everybody else.

When you talk about mixing old and new, what is your favorite era in fashion?

I love the ’70s. The mix of the prints, the whole attitude of it, that swag! That super fly. So it’s the big hats with the feathers; it’s the bell-bottoms; it’s the jumpsuits; it’s the plaids; it’s all that color and all that attitude. It just reeked of fashion and music and sex, right? It was just this sexy time. Also Soul Train! How can you not get inspired from Soul Train? So many designers just sit back and watch all those episodes right? That whole kind of era of fun and halter tops and guys and their tight pants. How can you not be inspired by that?

How do you then curate your store? 

I had to learn that as I started. Before, I had this vision of what my business is going to be like, and I just thought it would be models and fabulous…everybody was a size 2 or 4. As I went on, people were like, “OK that’s cute, but who’s going to fit that?” Especially when I came to Harlem. The women will tell you in a minute and say, “Baby that’s cute, but who gon’ fit that? Does that shoe come in an 11? Where are these 6 and 7s coming from?” But it was something that I pulled because it was something that I loved and vintage is usually small.

How do you decide what pieces you’re going to sell? How do you decide which one makes the cut to be sold and which one doesn’t?

I would buy pieces and then eventually put it together. So it’s not as if that I’m out specifically just scouring for specific pieces, especially anybody that thrifts or vintage shops — it’s that score. Some days are good, some days are bad. You’re just out, you’re looking. It’s that hunt. It’s that find. It’s almost like a relationship.

So do you focus at all on brand. If you see something that you love, who cares if it’s McQueen?

It calls me. In some way, it just speaks to me. It’s like art. It’s sort of like when I go out vintage shopping; I’m usually looking for the pattern and the color. And you can see it among all of that stuff. Then it’s that one print that really stands out or it’s how it falls. It’s sitting there and nobody knows. I mean, I’ve come up with some Azzedine Alaia’s and some Claude Montanas and other people just don’t know about it and that’s like the holy grail, like Chanel, like oh my God!

Do you start shopping for yourself instead of shopping for your store?

Oh, it’s a struggle. All the time. It’s as if you traveled and went through that whole experience and that journey to get it and then you give it up. It’s that separation which always helped me now in business was always on the 30th or the 31st. You get that? It’s the first of the month, sell it! You want to be here, you probably have to sell it. So that kind of helps.

I find as a stylist, when you’re putting together a shoot and, in the end, I’m picking out things that I want. It’s so hard because you were like, “Oh I love this and I love this!”

That’s what makes you good though. Because of your eye. And people hire you because you do have that eye, your aesthetics and that’s what they want.

Where do you get your aesthetic from? You clearly have, in your store, a very specific look and feel and vibe to everything.

That’s also with the new. You have to stay current. As much as you want things, you don’t want it to come off as costume. So once I saw that Prada was doing prints and giving homage to the Hawaiian shirt, so now it’s like, “Oh! OK.” Now I see that all around at the vintage stores. So you kind of mix that in so guys who see it will say, “Wow it’s giving that Prada feel.” It’s all that inspiration. When the guys are doing color, so you see that blazer, that vintage blazer. Then you bring in that newer blazer so you kind of give them some sort of ideas or just kind of educate them saying, “All that stuff is from the past.” So if you wear that now, even the guys with the sneakers and then wear something that’s vintage because it’s dope. That’s like the new word now, so it’s dope, it’s hot. All those graphic…how about the Jeremy Scott? We talked about that Moschino. We have tons of that stuff downstairs. Who knew that those graphic things will come back and it just comes back and it’s like old stuff that you just have. It’s relevant and current now. So once you collect, it always comes back and then you’ll be ahead of the curve if you just wear it before it’s actually out.

So it’s about keeping your pulse on what’s current. What are your top vintage shopping tips for someone who wants to go vintage shopping?

My first tip would be patience. Take time out because a lot of people get overwhelmed. I could go in a shop and somebody else would be in the same shop and they’ll look at it just like, “My God, it’s dusty; it’s a mess. They kind of get overwhelmed by it. Everybody’s not built to do it.

Taking that time out to look at the trends and see what’s going on is also important–going to those obscure areas where people just don’t go. You go in the South Bronx somewhere. You go to Westchester somewhere. You go to those street markets, those fairs. I’ve found Pucci on the street in the East Village or on the side of the street with a little Spanish woman in East Harlem. That was great! I wanted to take her home.

What’s your biggest trick from telling trash from treasure? 

I get that all the time. We do a little consignment here, and it all depends on who brings it in. It’s the energy of the person, just like how you want to do business with people that you like. I’ve had people that come in here with Hermes scarves and vintage things and the story is about how it was my great-great-grandfather’s in World War II, but it’s like, I don’t like your presentation or I don’t like you. It’s just I’m not buying what you’re selling.

It’s always that story behind it that makes it more appealing to me. It’s not just that stuff, but it’s that whole story that appealed to it and how you come and present it to me that makes it really desirable.

So if you find a really fabulous dress in some store in some totally random place, but it speaks to you, do you start to create a story for it?

Oh, absolutely! Patricia Fields did a collaboration with Payless years ago. The shoes were fab. Remember, it’s Patricia Fields, nominated for Academy Awards, she styled The Devil Wears Prada, so she’s the go-to stylist of all stylists. So I’d say, OK, that’s permission for me enough. And I’ve known Pat for years. She was one of my mentors when I was, like, 17 years old. I’m not selling it like it’s Payless Patricia Fields, it’s because you look at everything else. You say, “This guy obviously curates this stuff and he has style and I like him so everything else, I’m going to like.” They buy into the whole aesthetics of it. So it doesn’t make a difference if you come to a picnic and you have the paper plates as opposed to fine china. It’s because of the people that are there, it’s because I put out the paper plates. So then it becomes fab, right? Whatever you do, it’s fab because you present yourself and say that it’s fab. It’s fab, it’s practical, it’s fun, we don’t take it that serious. Here it is!

B.O.R.N. to Style premieres Tuesday, July 15 at 10ET/11PT on FYI

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