Confessions Of A Shoplifting-Aholic

This 17-year-old is so obsessed with high fashion, he's willing to go to jail - repeatedly - for his shoplifting habit.

Kevahn Thorpe, described in a profile in New York magazine as "a slight 17-year-old standing no more than five foot seven" who lives with a single mother in a housing project, has only been shoplifting designer duds for a year, but in that time has managed to do serious damage. An honors student with an aptitude for Calculus, the teen quickly developed a taste for good clothes and stealing high-end merchandise became an addictive challenge.

"I experimented and took this Comme des Garçons shirt...I was just testing, like, how easy it is. That was my first high-class shirt I took. Then me and my brother went to Bergdorf Goodman, and we stole vintage Ralph Lauren polos-and that's the hardest store to steal from. The next day, we went to Barneys again, and we took some 7 for All Mankind jeans. And I went in Bergdorf Goodman and stole a navy-blue Gucci V-neck T-shirt, and then I was like, Damn, I need a pair of shoes with these, so I went right to Prada and I crafted-I took those lavender patent-leather Pradas."

The more wardrobe he accumulated, the easier it became to blend into high-end stores, and despite a series of arrests (and the fact that under New York law he's charged as an adult), jail time and a stint in a group home, he found his reputation as a style maven and his newfound status too heady to give up. He's been arrested literally dozens of times and stolen thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of clothing. Despite countless chances from sympathetic judges, his compulsive thieving finally lands him in jail for good.

When I ask about his plans for after he gets out of prison, all he wants to talk about is fashion, firing questions at me: "Who does Dior now?" "Who designs Paul Smith?" "Remember Louis Vuitton? Like, a few seasons ago, he did a SpongeBob theme? You know Louis Vuitton started off making trunks, right? In the 1800s?" "Balenciaga, who does it for women's?" He pauses to learn how to correctly pronounce Nicolás Ghesquière's name. "You know that Yves Saint Laurent died, right? At 71 years old. He's the first person, the first designer, to have black people model his clothing." A burly Department of Corrections captain is supervising our visit, and I've been imagining his disdain as he listens to this conversation. Now he interrupts. "He could be good working for a fashion publicist," he says. "That's something I can see you at, right there."

What's so strange about this story - well, besides the teen's compulsion - is that for once it is not a story of the system failing someone, so much as society's influence resoundingly beating the system out. Quite simply, fashion, and what it connotes, have become more important to this boy than his freedom. Even though everyone knows his clothing is stolen, it no longer matters - so it's gone beyond projecting an image to giving the garments themselves an odd Talismanic power. In some ways it seems like the sympathetic judges with whom he deals want to go easy on him because the fetish seems to them so frivolous. And because, as the guard says, it seems like here's a young man who could easily turn his talents and passion to a career with far less effort than it takes to survive a long stint up the river. Reading it, you want him so badly to get himself together, maybe get an internship with a fashion P.R. house. But it's obvious that he's in the grip of something so much bigger than himself, where the only concrete thing is - well, things. And who can wonder at someone wanting to forcibly grasp stability?

The Fashion Thief [New York]