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Caution: These Kids Are About to Blow Up

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A pair of sweatpants appears on the screen. Heather types as Shawn reads the line for the catalogue: "For the active, on-the-go pimp in us all," he says.

"Pimping is just chillin' out in the utmost style," explains Justin, bopping around the office, eating deli salad. "And Danücht's what the well-dressed pimp should be relaxing in."

Shawn flips through a book of their fashion plates -- polo shirts, hats, T-shirts. I LOVE LUCCI -- meaning money -- one T-shirt says. Others say RIKER'S ISLAND, ATTICA, SING SING, and DANÜCHT: DOWN BY LAW. One just says YOBRO.

"We're trying to sum up all aspects of youth," Justin says. "Like hip-hop, grunge, street, thug . . . "

"We need some more girl shit," says Shawn.

Justin thinks. "Hmmmm. I tell you, right now, the shit for girls, it's gotta be hard, 'cause girls are coming out hard. Like, 'Yo, what the deal, bitch, what?' "

Heather tells him he has a phone call: "It's Sergeant O'Reilly?" she says.

Justin laughs. "Omigod, the cops!" It's just Richie.

Justin puts on a Tricky CD, Angels With Dirty Faces. "Ha, that's me," he says.

Only a couple of years ago, plenty of kids like Justin-Sean-and-Richie were what this magazine called prep-school gangsters: private-school students living a wannabe gangster's life. Credit-card scams, shoplifting, and drug dealing were important ways of getting money and status in the scene. It didn't seem any worse to them than what some of their own parents or people in the news were doing with great success. One boy, whose father was a well-known real-estate developer in the eighties, once told me, "My dad's a gangster. He sits at the dinner table laughing about all the people he's screwing over." "Ivan Boesky made $200 million in a year off a scam," says Kim Bailey -- who at 18 has left crew life behind and is also working with friends as a party promoter -- with measured admiration. "Anybody who can make that kind of money off of a scam -- what can you say? But then he got caught."

No one seems more surprised by the way he's turned things around than Justin. "Omigod, I was a hoodlum, a little piece of shit," he says. "Doing graffiti, robbing stores, terrorizing people -- I don't care if you say it, whatever, it's true. I was such a little crazer." He was kicked out of Xavier High School and St. Peter's Prep, a school in New Jersey, before landing at the High School for the Humanities. And that was Davide Sorrenti's school.

When Davide (pronounced "David") Sorrenti died in February 1997, it was an A1 story in the New York Times. The 20-year-old photographer -- son and brother of two other prominent fashion photographers, Francesca and Mario -- had come to symbolize the dangers of "heroin chic." (Davide's death was actually the result of a painful blood condition, Cooley's anemia, complicated by heroin use. His mother is now leading a celebrated campaign against the use of underage fashion models, who are arguably more vulnerable to the lure of drugs.)

"Basically, Dave dying taught us that you can't fuck around in life," says Justin. "You can't do something for so long and think you're gonna get away with it. Like with this new thing, kids on some positive shit . . . for me, I think it's Davide looking over us."

"He was my brother," says Justin. "From ninth grade on, every day, it was me and him."

"The four of them were like peas in a pod," says Francesca Sorrenti. It used to be Justin-Shawn-Richie-and-Davide. Sorrenti's East Village loft was unofficial SKE headquarters; Davide started the crew. "I'd say to Davide, 'Oh, are they here again?' And he'd just say, 'Mom, I have to take care of my boys.' They had this brotherhood. City kids do that -- they put their energy into each other."

SKE, a "famous" crew, was never simply for ruffians. It always had an artistic edge. Driven and creative, Davide insisted his friends develop their talents and gave an aura of real-fame-waiting-to-happen to their togetherness. "Every day for them was a photo shoot, he documented everything," says Francesca Sorrenti. Davide himself began to "blow up" around age 19, his darkly glamorous photos appearing in Interview, Detour, Raygun. "He was into fashion, but he would try to play" -- subvert -- "fashion," says Justin.


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