Childhood dreams and synchronicities transformed a launch dinner into endless possibilities. The Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation and Steve Madden hosted a feast on Tuesday, July 18 to celebrate their new limited collection with DaQuane Cherry, the winner of their design challenge. The self-taught painter was enthusiastic and in good spirits during the night’s celebration. The dinner, which took place at Settepani in Harlem, showcased Cherry’s three-piece wearable art including his Mirage jacket, Phantom boot and Shadow bag. Cherry, 25, allowed his creativity to turn his dreamy nightmare painting, titled “The Phantom of The Child,” into a stylish three-piece outfit.
Brenika Banks photos
Cherry was announced as the design challenge winner on March 8, a spiritual day for him. He drafted his acceptance speech hours before it was announced because his intuition predicted the win. “I was manifesting like I already won so walking into it, I had that energy of ‘thank you’ and me waiting to hear the announcement of my name versus hoping for it,” said Cherry. He expressed operating in the energy of already claiming what he believes is his. That day proved to be no different and it seemed to have worked in his favor. “That is the key to manifestation, you have to claim that you have it.”
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Synchronicities were present when Cherry, days before the launch, saw a Bloomingdale’s truck outside of the coffee shop where he once worked before his shift at the famed department store. Other synchronous events included him working in the shoe department where Steve Madden was sold. Cherry’s newest synchronicity was driving through Manhattan and seeing the Empire State Building lit up with colors blue, yellow and red—his collection’s colors. “This is a very pivotal time, and I could not have done it easier or better without any of you so thank you for having this moment with me,” he said at the launch dinner.
Also in attendance was Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, co-Founder of the Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation. The socially impactful visionary and go-getter strongly believes in figuring out how to get important things done, especially for Harlem. Evans-Hendricks and her co-founder, Musa Jackson, are thrilled to have this collaboration with Steve Madden. The Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation and Steve Madden’s partnership represents the kind of collaboration Evans-Hendricks consistently aims to grant the community of Harlem.
Brenika Banks photo
Evans-Hendricks was once a retail developer and Steve Madden was her first account in 1995. “I opened some of the first Steve Madden stores in shopping centers—that’s how full circle this whole thing is for me,” she said. It has always been important for her to showcase Black designers and help Black companies get into shopping centers. This is the main reason for the youth section in their foundation’s mission, which includes, “Mentoring, apprenticeship opportunities and curriculum designed to cultivate Harlem’s next generation of leaders in music, media, art, fashion, technology and entertainment.”
With the design challenge, several applicants submitted their works in January 2023. Being a creator was important and Evans-Hendricks was happy the applicants were graphic designers as well. “DaQuane being a fine artist almost didn’t even apply, because he was convinced that [the design challenge] wasn’t for him because he’s a painter,” said Evans-Hendricks.
Cherry submitted his art and application right before the deadline. Evans-Hendricks said Cherry’s art, “The Phantom of The Child,” was something everyone at the Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation and Steve Madden were struck by, including Steve Madden himself. Evans-Hendricks, Jackson, and Steve Madden executives who oversaw choosing the final five candidates of the design challenge were in awe. Cherry now understands the possibilities for a creative like himself and to never miss out on an opportunity. “For DaQuane, now he realizes he’s an artist, but he also created wearable art,” said Evans-Hendricks.
Since the launch of Cherry’s wearable art, April Dinwoodie, marketing and branding professional, described the energy at Steve Madden as “fantastic.” “When we locked into this partnership, the energy has been really amazing and it only got better when we started to engage with the artists and the creatives in the community,” said Dinwoodie. She enthusiastically stated the partnership was already ideal because music, culture, Harlem, and New York City fit in seamlessly with their brand ethos. “Once we locked in with those five finalists, DaQuane being one of them, the level went a thousand-fold,” she said.
Dinwoodie recalled great vibes reflecting the importance and how special the design challenge was. She credits Cherry for being the finalist who represented the collective intersection of both Steve Madden and the Harlem Festival of Culture the most. “DaQuane had something just extremely special in terms of his art which speaks for itself, in terms of the motif and the way that he represents his way of bringing things to life with the teddy bear and the primary colors,” said Dinwoodie.
In 2019, Cherry was inspired by Beyoncé’s song, “Brown Skin Girl,” to paint a piece with a teddy bear. The bear represented Cherry keeping that inner child alive. “And, it was not just what he created, it was also how he spoke of what is alive in Harlem today creatively and what speaks to the legacy of what Harlem is in terms of creativity and it’s what it brings to the world,” said Dinwoodie.
Cherry moved to NYC at 19 years old, which added to his total of 27 moves as a youth. His hardships and abandonment issues are testament to rebranding himself as well as reclaiming the child inside.“I’m trying to do the same thing for everyone else that’s out here adulting in life and telling them even though it feels like your inner child, that imagination, that creation that children do so willing gets diminished as you get older, it’s still in you.” Cherry is encouraging everyone to live in their dreams as a hidden, deeper meaning behind the collection. “Find that teddy bear, find those primary colors in you again.”
Evans-Hendricks revealed Madden is an art collector, which added to how well Cherry’s painting resonated . “When [Steve Madden] saw DaQuane’s work, when we were in the offices, when the finalists got to do a visit to the offices and headquarters, [Steve] really loved his art,” she said.
Dinwoodie candidly spoke about Madden’s love for art, especially Harlem-based artists, and how their partnership with Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation is beyond branding and extends to bettering the community. “Part of our money went to the festival itself, which is a typical sort of branding, activation dollars for branding. [It] was the perfect kind of combo of things because we can do really cool things and be a part of music and history,” she said. For more info, visit www.hfcfoundation.org/shop.