Pro tip: If you want to break into the fashion business, sometimes the best way to do it is through retail. Spending time on the shop floor of a prestigious retailer not only brings someone closer to the collections at the top of the seasonal fashion conversation, but ideally connects workers (on a personal level) with the designers that are leaving their marks on the fashion world at large. For someone like Curtis Hennager, this couldn’t be more true.

While Hennager hasn’t clocked in time on the design floor of any fashion house’s atelier, his time at New York’s iconic Atelier (before it’s initial closing, it has since reopened) and Dover Street Market New York has given him access to rare pieces from avant-garde designers like Carol Christian Poell and Carpe Diem, while allowing him to interact directly with fashion icons like Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy.

We sat down with Hennager to hear him tell his story and see how his work in fashion retail has allowed him to remain close to the names that are moving fashion forward today. Read our interview with Hennager, then shop his exclusive selection of pieces below.

To start, can you tell us who you are and what you currently do full-time?

Curtis Hennager, Jewelry Manager at Dover Street Market New York.

How did you get into fashion? What were you doing before you got into the industry?

I always had an interest in clothing growing up. It wasn’t anything highbrow, but it was just something I was always personally conscious about. I skated in high school and this was around the time Nike opened its SB division. Out of the blue this idea of working for its design team started floating in my head. The idea persisted and after a while a friend put me in contact with a mutual friend who worked for the team. Off the bat, he told me I would most likely have to go to design school to work on the team, which immediately put me at a loss. Growing up I was ignorant to the concept of design or art schools, it was just something that was never emphasized in school or by the people around me. Anyway, I went to college for a little bit in Minnesota and it was there that a friend introduced me to the whole world of fashion. This shifted my mind from skate clothes to high fashion.

How did you end up in New York?

I visited New York in the summer of ‘02 and was hooked. I wanted to move here right after high school but I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, college included. The design school advice was still in the back of my mind but the concept was still abstract to me. As a result, college seemed like the safe bet so I went for a year in Minnesota, before I just decided to drop out and move to New York regardless. My plan was to live in the city for a year before applying to FIT for design.

In August ‘06, my father and I drove out and put my belongings in some storage facility I found out in Long Island City. After that, he dropped me off at the super sketchy Glenwood Hotel I had found online near the Marcy stop in Williamsburg. I think the rate was $10 per night—my god, it was awful. The plywood rooms were about the size of two sleeping bags with chicken wire for the ceiling. It was hellaciously hot that summer, the Queens blackout happened the month before. Anyway, I left Glenwood after a few nights and crashed with a friend who had lost his cell phone just prior to me coming out. Eventually I found an apartment on 4th and Ave D in Alphabet city and got a my first NYC job at Mood Fabrics (ha!). Good memories.

I’m told you worked at niche New York shop Atelier before it closed in 2012-2013 (it has since reopened). What did you do while you were there? How would you describe the shop and the brands it carried?

Atelier was a very special place. I’m not sure how the store is now since reopening, I haven’t been back since my last day, so I can only speak about my time working there. I worked at Atelier as a sales associate for a little over four years from 2009 until it closed.

During that time Atelier was the best menswear store in the world—and I don’t say that lightly. Obviously that claim comes off as rather arrogant, but it’s the truth. I met and saw practically everyone come through those doors from industry people to celebrities and they all had the same thing to say. I can remember walking through the streets and seeing advertisements, or tabloids with people wearing garments we had sold them; it was surreal being able to make the connection. The store’s influence was everywhere, it was the apex of the dark, minimal fashion world.

At different times during the store’s original run when we carried brands like Carpe Diem (also the numerous affiliated brands after it’s closing), Carol Christian Poell, Rick Owens, Raf Simons, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons and Undercover. For the store’s 10 year anniversary, all the designers we carried produced a commemorative piece for the occasion, Rick Owens did a five-piece collection (if my memory serves correctly). Also, Carol Christian Poell designed a suit exclusively for us, only 10 were made. Fortunately I got one and got married in it. Sadly it doesn’t fit me anymore but I’ll hold onto that piece forever.

Knowing that you worked closely with the Rick Owens brand during your time at Atelier, what did you glean from those interactions? Did working closely with Owens’ team change your perception of the brand or give you new insights into the designs and the designer himself?

We had a wonderful relationship with Rick Owens. Atelier carried and supported Rick Owens all the way back in 2005, and we also franchised his first store in the world back in 2007. It was great working so close with them, it was like a little family. Our stores were a short walk away from each other so we were always heading back and forth; when would go out together, we were a little black silhouetted army at night [laughs]. Whenever anyone from the Rick Owens team would visit NYC they would stop by and visit us at Atelier.

I only met Rick once when I first began working at the store; I have actually interacted with him more during my time at Dover Street Market oddly enough. More than anything though, I have interacted with his wife Michèle the most over the years, we get along great. The first time we met we had a company dinner at the Bowery Hotel; our interactions were brief and unremarkable, but I did observe a lot that helped me understand his work better. In a nutshell Owens is just a unique, chill man. He moves to the beat of his own drum, has a vision, pursues it and, fortunately, it’s really resonated with people. I feel like I could go on for hours about what insights I learned about Rick during that time, especially while I was at Atelier, but it’s probably best to keep it brief.

Where did you go after Atelier? Did you stay in retail? If so, in what capacity?

While Atelier was in the midst of closing Dover Street Market New York was opening. I applied, was accepted, opened the store and have been there ever since. It has been a wonderfully strange ride.

What brands were you into during your time at Atelier, and what brands are you into currently? Did your personal aesthetic and style evolve over time? If so, what is that change and what brought it about?

I started off being into Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester when I first began working at Atelier. Toward the end I transitioned to Rick Owens and became obsessed with Carol Christian Poell.

Now I am very much into Undercover, Junya Wantanabe, Comme des Garçons and Carhartt, but will wear anything that resonates with me. I’m less of a zealot than I used to be when I was younger.

I think that New York is changing, fashion at large is changing and these evolutions—coupled with the growth of technology—played a large part in my personal style evolving over time. Also I think growing up and gaining 50 pounds had a lot to do with my style as well. I’m not some emaciated kid anymore, so some clothes just aren’t meant for my frame anymore.

What are you selling with Grailed, and why do you feel it would be a strong fit for the Grailed audience?

Basically all of my Atelier wardrobe that does not possess sentimental value. A lot of the pieces are from Carol Christian Poell, which are difficult to acquire out right, even brand new. I think the Carol Christian Poell pieces have the most attraction because of how talented he is. The man hasn’t designed a new collection since 2009 and people are still buying up his pieces as soon a delivery hits stores. Once you experience the quality of a Poell piece, you will understand. To be honest I really do not even want to sell the Poell pieces, but I’m running out of room in my apartment [laughs].

Are there any rare gems in your offering that deserve a particular spotlight or have a special story? If so, please expand.

All the special story pieces I’ve kept for myself, except for the Carol Christian Poell gray Self Edge suit. It is the rarest of the gems and—while I’m still reluctant to let it go—it’s time. It has had a few homes, but it was with none other than the legendary Lou Reed before I got a hold of it.

What’s on the horizon, be it with your wardrobe or in your personal endeavors?

I won’t get into anything too specific but I am still at Dover Street Market, am back in school and am working on a few personal projects. If anything worthwhile comes from them you’ll find out, and if not, my failures or quasi-successes will be mine.

As for clothing, I just purchased a special order Doublet shirt, and have a few pieces from Visvim coming. The perks of working at Dover Street Market give me the opportunity to pick up the very latest from Junya, Supreme, Nike, and Comme des Garcon so—although unplanned—anything carried by the store is certainly on the horizon of my wardrobe.

Tags: junya-watanabe, rick-owens, carol-christian-poell, dover-street-market, comme-des-garcons