Sometimes he likes to perform what he calls “the Outfit Check.” Coral J. Crew cashmere V-neck sweater—check. Gucci charcoal skinny jeans—check. Gucci double-G logo belt—check. Spotless brand-new cream-and-gold Louis Vuitton Damier checkerboard- pattern sneakers—check. Blue Fendi glasses frames with the FENDI sticker still stuck on the lower corner of the lens—check. When he’s dressed like this, he says, “I feel high-class—like nobody can tell me nothing.”
But the outfit loses its protective aura when Kevahn Thorpe is wearing it, as he is on this June morning, before Judge Gregory Carro in State Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan. And Carro is, in fact, about to tell Kevahn something. At a word from the judge, the court officers can step forward to handcuff Kevahn, in all his finery, right there in the courtroom, shouting, “One comin’ in!” as they escort him to the holding cells and eventually to Rikers Island. Kevahn is a slight 17-year-old standing no more than five foot seven, but if this is what Carro decides to do, it won’t be his first trip to the Island. This arrest is the latest in a long series of thefts of high fashion from Gucci and Prada to Bergdorf and Barneys, and even though he has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of stolen goods, a misdemeanor, Kevahn is now facing a one-to-three-year sentence in prison upstate for repeated offenses.
The first time he tried shoplifting, at 16, “I was in Macy’s, the one in Queens Center Mall,” says Kevahn, who has a handsome, angular face, a black-velvet complexion, and a cool, watchful gaze occasionally undone by an irrepressible, wide smile. To a kid who lived with his single mother in the Queensbridge Houses projects, the department store offered an irresistible array of all the things he couldn’t have. He was with his brother, Jovahn, who is one year older. Almost as a game, Kevahn says, the boys “took mad T-shirts”—meaning a lot. The brands were American Rag and Buffalo, which Kevahn now derides as “those cheap shirts.” But the boys got away with their caper and decided to repeat it. “We thought we could just go back there and do it anytime,” he says. “So we got caught.”
These were kids who displayed some of the classic warning signs of juvenile delinquency. Their father wasn’t around much, and their mother was overwhelmed. When Kevahn was 13, he was arrested with two classmates for the theft of a teacher’s credit card and spent six months in a Department of Juvenile Justice facility. But now he was an honors student at Long Island City High School. Calculus was his favorite subject. He could slide between street syntax and proper English. The MySpace page he had set up the year before featured ice-cream-cone graphics and paeans to The Simpsons, listed award-winning children’s and young-adult books as his favorites, and announced that he wanted to go to Harvard Law School. “He got no hood in him at all,” says his brother.
“I think he should’ve been from Beverly Hills,” says his classmate Monet. “When I first met Kevahn, it was in a science class. He wasn’t into fashion. He was into Jordans. He’d just wear regular, like, Akademiks pants, like somethin’ you could get off Jamaica Avenue, and some T-shirt, like what normal kids wear—something he wouldn’t be caught dead in right now.” She and her twin sister, Melisa, became Kevahn’s best friends. “He was smart,” says Melisa. “Kevahn’s mind is not like an average kid’s mind.”
Kevahn was anything but average. By the end of freshman year, he had posted a photo of himself in Christian Dior glasses. The next year, he started a new MySpace page and wallpapered it in Gucci logos. It hadn’t yet occurred to this Queens kid with nothing that he could simply cross the East River and step right into the world conjured up by these labels. But that was about to change.
Kevahn’s epiphany came when he found himself at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, trying to find the train station with his mother. “I saw Dior, Bottega, everything there, and I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s right here, right near where I live!’ ” he says. It was like going from Kansas to Oz. “Kids around where I live can’t be buying there,” he says. But buying wasn’t the point. After the Macy’s bust, he says, “my friend showed me where Barneys is at.” And when he walked through those doors on Madison Avenue, he gained entrance to a glittering realm in which the luxurious trappings of his dreams were literally within reach. “I was like, ‘Oh, Barneys don’t have alarms? Why should we be taking this cheap Macy’s stuff when we could just go to Barneys?’ ”