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Caution: These Kids Are About to Blow Up

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And for that, he was revered by kids. "He was bringing everything that we were to the pages of magazines," says Shawn; " -- the realness of everything, graffiti, hip-hop," says Justin. "He was a trendsetter," says Richie. "People copied everything he did," Justin says, offering, "slitting the sides of your pants legs . . . cutting your own hair."

The boys ran around town together. "We went out every night of the week," says Richie, whose mother died when he was 3, and so, he says with a soft laugh, "you know, I never had a curfew. Late-night, people would come to my crib." They tried to be rappers together (if the Beastie Boys could do it . . . ), in a group called the Mosaics -- because, Richie says, "we were all different ethnics." (Justin-Shawn-and-Richie are Puerto Rican and Italian, Italian, and Jewish, respectively.)

When they were "rushed" after a show at the old club the Muse, they started to think that maybe they had something that people with money and power saw as promising -- and marketable. "We were immediately gassed," says Justin. "It was overwhelming -- this lady from Paisley Park records offered to sign us, and Def Jam . . . " But the deals, for various reasons, never happened. "They wanted us to rap in, like, Spanish," says Richie. "We were mad young," says Justin, "like 17, and we just kind of got scared off."

They were also busy being kicked out of high school and dealing with a "crazed" scene. Richie was kicked out of Columbia Prep before winding up at Dwight. Shawn went to Xavier after St. Anthony's -- and Xavier had the best dances. "It was an all-boys school, but when it came to the dances, they would have massive amounts of girls from all the other Catholic schools," says Richie. "Shawn made us fake I.D.'s" so they could get in. Justin and Richie met on a dance floor.

When Shawn had to do a senior business project -- à la Risky Business -- he came up with the idea of making T-shirts, which evolved into an underground industry. They can't agree on who thought up the slogan "Models suck," which they don't actually believe ("Models are all good," says Justin. "It's modeling that sucks"), but at the time, it seemed just the thing to counter a culture gone model-mad. It was Davide who came up with "Danücht," originally conceived as the name of a rolling-paper company the boys were planning. "It wasn't just about pot. We were gonna have all different flavors," says Richie. And then, spurred by Davide, they started to think bigger.

Then he died. Grief-stricken, Justin was incapacitated for months and broke his wrist punching a wall in anger. He'd been living with Davide and his girlfriend, James King, in their apartment on West 12th Street before it happened. "I'd been kicked out of my house for being a derel" -- derelict -- "not finishing high school," Justin says (he later got his GED).

And then, he says, Danücht "saved" him. "A couple of months after Davide died, they came to me and said, 'We're gonna do this for him,' " says Francesca Sorrenti. And for themselves: They were getting older, and it was time to move on. It's interesting that one of their clothing designs takes the rainbow symbol of The North Face, practically the prep-school-gangster uniform, and jokingly turns it upside down.

But their crew mentality hasn't left them. Justin says it never will; it just has a different purpose now: "We're still a crew. And it's perfect for being in business together, because there's complete trust -- we've been through so much together. In some office situation, you never really know who you're dealing with -- like, somebody can come out with some next weird personality. But we know each other completely. Like when we're arguing, we can go all out, because no matter what, we're friends. We'll be like, 'Fuck you! No!' Or sometimes we're just like, 'Yes!,' 'cause we understand each other. It's all about arguing -- that was Dave's tag, ARGUE."

"It's more than kids saying, 'Lets make pants,' " says Francesca Sorrenti. "It's a movement."

"What the dealie? You coming to Life tonight? Yeah, come and chill out, shit's gonna be the banger, VIP-status-styles, Mark's D.J.'ing, me and Justin and Shawn and Richie are gonna be there. . . ."

We're in a cab, and Steve -- Ocevedo; they call him Dough Boy -- is on a cell phone getting the models to come down and make the party happen (a bit of wisdom their promoting mentor Mark Baker imparted to them: "Model plus celebrity equals party"). Steve sometimes helps out promoting with Justin-Shawn-and Richie.


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