Framed images of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Nat King Cole aptly adorn B. Oyama Homme, the men’s boutique in Harlem that sells tailor-cut suits; an assortment of shirts; and haberdashery items such as ties, pocket squares, gloves, cuff links, and suspenders. “I love to see a well-dressed man,” beams the proprietor, Bernard Oyama.
His background, experience, passion, and current location have all converged at quite an opportune time. He concurs: “I didn’t plan it, but the timing is perfect.” Not only is Harlem enjoying a resurgence, but so is the suit. Oyama is often regaled with stories by older Harlemites of how being well appointed was at one time more than a fashion statement: it was proper etiquette. It was once considered inappropriate for a man to walk the streets without a hat. Oyama intends to be an integral part of once again raising the standard.
He has been influenced by fashion since childhood. Raised by his grandparents in the West African nation of Gabon, Oyama learned the details of men’s grooming from his grandfather, who was a tailor. “That’s where I learned the trade, and about color and fabric.” Oyama eventually left to study in Paris and opened his own Parisian boutique in 1990. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and worked as a security guard while studying for a master’s degree in banking. He eventually used his experience as a business development officer to launch his boutique in Harlem in November 2002. Sales topped $175,000 in 2004.
Oyama enjoys not only styling men, but educating those who need help with details like selecting complementing colors or tying an effective Windsor knot. His biggest challenge is getting men to break bad styling habits. “It’s not about matching; it’s about coordinating. The tie and the pocket square do not have to match,” he offers. “Neither do the suit and the shoes.” He finds too often that many aspire to fashion their look after television or film personalities. “They want pants with wide legs and long jackets. It may look good on [celebrities]; it may be appropriate for what they’re doing at that time, but it doesn’t mean that it suits you, or that you should walk down the street like that.”
Suits sold by Oyama are classically tailored. “The best [fitting] suit is an English cut with Italian finishes,” he explains, one that conforms to the body, with hand detailing in areas like the pockets and the lapels. Oyama caters to an array of celebrities including Malik Yoba and Freddie Jackson.
As much as he believes dressing well is a learned art, he is also convinced that it can be achieved by applying two basic principles: “Style is a combination of attitude and color. With the right attitude, even a cheap suit can be worn well,” he says. “The right attitude with the right clothes is a great combination. Style always changes, but your attitude is yours forever.”