When Amir Browder was growing up on Capitol Hill, he did something that few of his classmates at Archbishop Carroll High School could relate to. He would spend his lunch money to buy issues of his favorite magazine, Arena Homme +, based in London. “It’s like the Bible of men’s fashion, at least five to ten years ahead of style trends,” he says. He didn’t know it then, but that biannual publication would soon be the inspiration for his own brand, Homme DC.
Browder, 40, bounced around from different odd jobs for years, all the while dreaming of creating a luxury men’s boutique in Southeast DC: “I got tired of always seeing people go to Mazza Gallerie or Tyson’s Corner to buy luxury clothing, and thought it would be cool to have amazing, curated clothing from local designers, hard to find designers, and luxury designers all hanging in the same store.”
After working shifts as an operations assistant at Neiman Marcus, Browder would stop by the Chanel boutique for inspiration. “I’d look at it, and it was only like 12 or 13 pieces,” he says. “I was like, that’s how I’m gonna do my shop. I want 12 or 13 of the dopest pieces.”
Despite not knowing how to pay for such a boutique, Browder applied for a residency at the Anacostia Arts Center in 2014, and the application was approved on his birthday. A friend suggested Browder host pop-ups and display work by local artists and designers. Soon, he was booking artists every month. “It became a cult-like following of these up-and-coming artists coming into the space. Then it started evolving from that to artists of all disciplines. I started getting really booked, and the space exploded.”
With his success in Anacostia, Browder wanted to move to a more central location and found 52 O Street Studios, home to a wide range of artists, designers, musicians, and writers. Sure, when he first toured the space in 2016, there were larger, pricier, spaces he considered. But on his way out of the building, he noticed a small, subterranean studio about the size of a dorm room and knew he’d found the one (“I walked in and said, ‘I’ll take it,’ and that was it.”) The space can only fit between 15 to 30 people, but the cramped quarters have become a catalyst for artists to network and exchange ideas.
“I saw the beauty in literally being underground,” Browder says. “I’ve done everything here from independent movie screenings to intimate dinners, listening parties to underground tattoo pop-ups.”
On the windows of the space, the word “man” is written in Italian, Russian, Japanese, and, of course, French. “I just wanted people to understand that no matter what language you speak, we are all the same—men, women, and human beings at the end of the day.”
A year after moving to O Street, Browder’s boutique caught the attention of the retail managers at Reagan National Airport, and he opened a pop-up kiosk in Terminal C, selling luxury clothing and accessories to travelers. He was working 13-hour shifts, seven days a week for nine months. Now that his kiosk is closed, Browder can focus completely on the studio, where he showcases clothing from DC designers next to globally-recognized brands like Kenzo, Off-White, and AMI Paris.
“The clothing aspect is based on the philosophy of small, local, and hard to find, and I put them all together,” he says, showing off a hat that was hand-stitched by Tommy Rogat III with pieces of old denim. “You have to curate them in a way where it’s pleasing to the eye and the quality matches.”
Browder now hosts regular “Homme & Booze” events featuring wine and bourbon tastings from local distillers, music by DJ Bijoux, and a different artist’s work on display each time. The next event is on April 6, from 5 to 10PM, featuring a collection of art and clothing by Marly McFly, inspired by “the nostalgia of Saturday morning cartoons.”
Browder has plans to renovate the interior of the studio. But for now, he’s just happy if you stop in for a drink, take a photo for your Instagram, and pick up a piece of clothing from a local designer.
Homme DC, 52 O Street, NW, 202-750-4736; Available by appointment or during events.