Interview: @OmarAyemi, Polo Pioneer
Checking in with your favorite collector's favorite collector
@OmarAyemi should need no introduction, but I’ll do one anyway. Father, son, mentor, collector and down-to-earth are some of terms people use to describe Omar. As you can see in the image above he also happens to be one of the world’s premier collectors of Polo Ralph Lauren, owning doubles and triples of the most powerful pieces known to man - but hey, who’s counting?
J.E.: Looking at the photo above and I’m wondering.. what more can you say? Let’s do the interview a little out of order then. Let’s start here.. many people suspect that you currently own one of the best Polo collections in the world. What do you say to that?
O.A.: It’s important that I give credit to the Lo Lifes, the Steam Team and the Decepts who were among the pioneers in the Lo culture and moved the needle in terms of giving urban youth relevance and the rebellious spirit. They made it known when it comes to fashion we belong and need to sit at the adult table. Me and my team moved parallel during this era, in different circles, but it’s nothing but respect.
In regards to some people having the belief that my collection of vintage Ralph Lauren is vast, this is indeed true, it is substantial, after all I’ve been collecting and wearing Ralph Lauren for over 30 years. Now, in regards to having one of the most varied and expansive individual Ralph Lauren collections, that is of course subjective because there are a lot of vintage pieces I have yet to acquire, such as the Hurdles jacket and all the Summer hats and rare hats. There are several pieces that I initially was not interested in, but now I appreciate the significance and necessity of having them in my collection. I also would like to expand on my blow up Uni Sweater collection and vintage tee shirt collection, two areas of my collection that are subpar admittedly.
J.E.: I get the feeling you will never be satisfied until you have doubles of everything. But then I see you have three Purple Crown knits. Now again, these questions are out of order for sure, but you are also known as somewhat of a mentor to many in this space and I wonder if mentorship might be a part of your life beyond collecting.
O.A.: I want four purple crowns! and yes, I’m older now and have worked for the Department of Corrections for the last 15 years. I have had a fulfilling career because I’ve been able to mentor the younger inmates who I relate to and they respect my aura. Just being real and genuine and not having to pretend to be what I’m not, and also the newer officers to make the best of it and just be yourself and you will be respected, real recognizes real as they say.
J.E.: Ok let’s get these questions back in order. Tell me about your journey.
O.A.: Everyone calls me Omar, but my real name is Omowale, from the Yoruban tribe in Nigeria, which means, ‘the son that has returned’. Before I was born, my mother lost a baby boy at childbirth and I was born about two years later. Hence ‘the son who has returned’. Interesting right? I’m Guyanese, born in the only English speaking country in South America. I came to the States in 1987, lived in NJ for a few months, then my family settled in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It’s important to note both my parents are college educated and both have their degrees. My father has a Masters which he obtained when we lived in England when I was around 8 years of age. We were well off in Guyana, both my parents worked hard and I got that drive and motivation to be successful from them both. My father was a manager at the airline company and my mother was a teacher. They gave all of that up for the dream to be even more successful in the states and we came here in 1987 with the determination to take advantage of the opportunities this great land has to offer.
J.E.: You went to Murrow, which might as well have been called RLHS. What was that like?
O.A.: I went to Edward R. Murrow High School, where I was a fish out of water, still with a Guyanese accent and oblivious to style and fashion. Just wanting to be accepted and basically left alone. I was always a loner, I wasn’t necessarily picked on or bullied so to speak, but yearned to move comfortably through high school without the stigma of not being cool. I met someone who turned out to later become my best friend, his name is Duncan, he was part of the IN crowd and was very well liked and popular.
We struck up a friendship and from observation I began to notice the importance of clothing and fashion and the effect it played in being accepted. I’ve always been determined, so it’s with this attitude I began to save my allowance and Duncan and I went to Franklin Mills and Reading and bought Ralph Lauren, Guess and Girbaud Jeans. I noticed people treated me differently and they even thought i started to sell drugs! They actually asked me if I sold drugs! My drive has always been just to be accepted and I accomplished this so to speak. I never yearned to hang out with the cool kids because as I mentioned I was a loner except for my bond with Duncan.
I’ve always been pleasant and my personality seemed to draw the attention of other crowds, including the Italians and the Irish students and at times you would find me hanging with them. I wasn’t comfortable with the attention that being in fashion brought me, so its a contradiction that I sought to fit in but chose not to and lay low.
I later on was introduced to Duncan’s friends outside of Murrow: Jerry, Ilan aka Cyph, Shawn aka S-Flam, Alex aka P-Wild, Dario aka Ocho Rio, David - the wild Dominican of the bunch, Gene - the pretty boy Jamaican, Jay aka 90slo4life, Kevin - another of the pretty boy Indian Trinidadians, Andrew - the Jamaican Don, Christopher - the Jamaican badman, Jeff, Eric, Ed and last but not least Phil aka Puba, who provided the boom box for all our travels.
We all became very close and rocked a lot of Polo and were known for not only the clothing but seeing a lot of women, it’s just a fact. We did a lot of partying, went out of state to college campuses and went to Miami a few times before it became popular. I was known amongst my friends as the glue to the group, although the youngest, we all linked up at my home on Church Ave. before any functions and got lit, smoked and drunk on the 6th floor of my apartment building, then we headed out to whatever party was going on.
Well dressed in Lo and Girbaud, we went to clubs such as the Muse, the Lab, Qclub, Flamingo, the Ark, Hibiscus, Trinity Ballroom, Biltmore and quite a few clubs in the city as well. We always were deep and weren’t into trouble just Lo and chicks to be honest. I later became close to Don @dk_718 who was notorious for having Polo for sale. During those times, I met Prance-Lo, Jules aka Moët-Lo, and John aka Triple Skeete who are to this day are good friends of mine. I can say I started to buy and flip Polo and it’s from that that I was able to survive and maintain.
These were the golden years of fashion and Ralph Lauren and also hip hop. I grew up to MOBB deep, Wu Tang, The Boot Camp Click, BIG, Lil Kim, Mary, Brand Nubian, Red man, Jay-Z and Nas etc. They provided the soundtrack for my journey into adulthood, and it was during these times the world was introduced to Buju Banton, Bounty Killa and Beanie Man. Sets like Stone Love, Earth Ruler and Addies ruled the dancehall parties we frequented and the basement parties in the 50’s, East New York and Lennox road.
J.E.: Thank you for painting that picture. Any memorable moments?
O.A.: So many memorable moments, driving to Florida with my ‘747’ team for vacation and did a deal with an individual who resided out there and we linked up in the parking lot of a pharmacy. I believe it was for a cream Swordfish rayon, I’ve went all over New York on the trains, buses and rode my bicycle back in the ‘90s to do deals with a number of individuals. Along the way, I met and dealt with so many good people.. truly too many names to list here! Strange enough every piece of vintage lo I own has a unique story, and I value each experience just the same regardless of the piece. I eventually plan to build will be a living museum with the spirit and nostalgia of the clothing. The brand serves as the soundtrack of my life, and what a blessed and colorful life it has been.
O.A.: I’m indeed blessed and lucky to be in the position to continue to indulge in my hobby and am humbled by the recognition it sometimes gets. I’m always appreciative of the love I receive from my fellow Lo heads and beyond, who recognize the dedication and effort that goes into amassing a subjectively relevant vintage Ralph Lauren collection.
I retire in five years and the plan is to have a floor in the mansion I intend to buy to house this collection and set it up as a museum of my personal journey from a wide-eyed Guyanese kid, to a relatively successful father to my child, and collector and wearer of Vintage Ralph Lauren.