Eric Hatcher: Styling!

Eric Hatcher headshot

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” — Oscar Wilde.

This week’s Portrait Eric Hatcher encompasses both those thoughts. Hatcher has been in the fashion industry in numerous capacities, influencing what we wear and how we wear it. His current position is as the Visual Merchandise Supervisor and Menswear Stylist at Armour, a menswear collection started by his partner David Grimes. He’s also a fellow journalist and poet.

Some responses in this conversation have been edited for length and clarity.

I understand that you’re originally from Sugar Hill, home of the original Rapper’s Delight!
Yes, I am a Harlem native, born and raised. It’s not the same anymore. It’s been very gentrified since I lived there. The landscape has changed entirely. And yes, that is where the rap group started, and from what I understand, the reason it’s called that is because when Black people started migrating up from the South, there were great opportunities in that part of NY. So people would write home and say, “It sure is sweet up here!” and because it actually is on a hill, people started calling the area Sugar Hill. I grew up just down the block from where they filmed the movie “Claudine.”

Great movie! Give me the 411 on the family.
I am the Jan Brady of the family. I’m smack dab in the middle. I’m the second son out of three children, to a very hardworking mom and dad. Mom worked in corporate retail and my dad was also a corporate guy who worked in the World Trade Center for many, many years. Both of them were from the South. They met at a club and it was kismet. They haven’t parted since. Kind of like me and my partner David. 

What’s a favorite family memory?
My parents loved celebrating holidays. On Mother’s Day, we’d visit my grandmother. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always fun, often visiting other relatives. Summers were spent in Georgia where my dad was from. We were all about spending time with family, cousins of different ages and aunts and uncles, etc. They made sure we were a big, tight-knit unit. My fondest memories are just of being part of the group. 

How would your relatives have described you?
[Laughing] Oh this is good! I’d say… very inquisitive. Not exactly chatty, but I’d ask a lot of questions. A fun and loving kid, open-hearted and passionate and colorful! 

What interests did you have?
I loved drawing. I was always sketching something, from cartoon characters to characters I made up myself. I loved to create. I remember taking pieces of velvet and stitching them to my grandfather’s top coat, and sewing military patches on different garments or taking swatches of denim and sewing them together to make a patchwork vest. I was doing up cycling before it was a thing! Later on, my poetry became very important to me, especially as I got into college. I’ve always loved the arts. It’s allowed me to showcase my voice, my spirit and my opinions! 

[Laughing] I was going to ask for an early sign that you were gay, but I think adding velvet strips to your grandfather’s coat would do it.
[Laughing] Yes! That and having one too many crushes on my best friends. I think the moment I realized I was different, though I didn’t have the language for it, was that I loved Tina Turner and the Pointer Sisters, the drama of Cher and Bette Midler, all the divas from back in the day. I just gravitated to them. They made me happy. It wasn’t until much later that I began to discover who I was, unlike the kids today who seem to know it coming out of the womb! And there are no labels or boxes anymore. They’re like, “I’m everything!” When I came up, there were two boxes. Either ya are, or you aren’t. That was it! 

I interviewed Chaz Bono a while back and I remember him saying he didn’t understand the gay community’s obsession with Cher. And I explained that it was probably because she was a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to speak out and to be herself — traits that a lot of us admired and often wished we had.
I’m always surprised when celebrities or the people around them don’t realize the influence that they have on people and the high esteem that we hold for them. Back in the day, I was a freelance magazine writer in NY and I interviewed a number of celebrities, and was amazed how many of them were unaware of what they meant to the community. 

Who were two favorites and one disaster?
One of my favorites was Karyn Parsons. She played Hilary Banks, the older sister on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” I took her out to dinner to do the interview and she was so down to earth, and so beautiful. She’s a very talented woman and very sweet. She gave me all sorts of tips about self-care and making time for yourself. The other favorite is Bern Nadette Stanis, who portrayed Thelma on “Good Times.” I actually went to college with her sister back in the day. I did a cover story on her for a magazine called Black Elegance and she was stunning. Even as a little gay boy in Harlem, I had a huge crush on her. She was our first urban Blacktress! The person I was most put off by, and the name certainly fit, was Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The photos they gave me to publish were of him in his underwear in a disgustingly dirty living room. I was doing a phone interview and we chatted for a minute and then out of the blue, he said, “So what are you man, you white or what? Ha. Ha. Ha.” and then he hung up. And that was it. He was crazy. 

[Laughing] That bastard! Where did you go to school?
I graduated from Hofstra University in Long Island. It’s the island’s largest private university, and I studied print journalism there. It was pretty cool. I had a column in the school newspaper titled, “Reflections of a Brother Man.” 

When was that? That sounds like a movie from the ’70s!
[Laughing] How old do you think I am Suzi!?! It was the late ’80s, early ’90s. Hip hop was just starting to take off and Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” was all the rage. I was such a psychedelic groove type of kid. 

Well, that’s why I said ’70s. You were giving that vibe! I saw them in concert at the Trocadero and it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen and I’ve been to quite a few! Throw in the Brother Man and you had me fooled!
Brother Man was a cartoon character and I adopted the name and concept from that. I also like the idea that we are each other’s brother and back then “my brother” was used interchangeably with “my N-word.” On top of that, I went to a predominantly white school, so this was what my perspectives were going to be about before you ever spoke to me or saw an image of me. 

And that was after 12 years of Catholic school? That must’ve been a blip, as we like to say.
Yes, it definitely was a blip. It was a pressure cooker, and there I was having to wear these stifling polyester navy blue and khaki uniforms and then off to an all-boys high school, which — not knowing who I was yet or in total denial — was difficult. High school was very rough for me. I was in the “Boogie Down (Bronx)” and it was a very macho environment — hypermasculine, and the boys had so much bravado. I, on the other hand, wasn’t an athlete. I tried to run track, but that didn’t pay out for me. I was more of an artist, and a BIG nerd… a Blerd! 

What was your first big step into the fashion world?
After graduating, I did a number of different things, including working for a company where Bette Midler and Calvin Klein were our clients and freelanced as a fashion writer for many years, but I ended up tapping into merchandising. I loved it. It put me in the center of department stores where I got to work on huge tables. I got to work with many clients, the main one being Ralph Lauren. I got to work in Macy’s and Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor. I got to travel to the different stores that I was responsible for. It was exciting. Working with all those clients and working with all the clothing and accessories gave me freedom to develop my own style and to constantly reinvent myself. 

Where do you think you got your sartorial sense from?
My parents were my first fashion influence. They were always very stylish, as was my paternal grandfather. He had his three piece suits that he always wore and his hats, either a fedora or his pork pie hats. He was a scary man, very tough, but stylish! I feel like I inherited some of his  swag and flavor. 

Explain the job of merchandising to me.
It means going into a space and transforming it visually using a theme or aesthetic of some sort. As a visual display artist, you could be doing a window or storefront, or an interior space. When you walk into a store, whether it’s a Hallmark Store or a department store, the spaces are designed strategically to try to get you inspired to purchase something. 

Got it. One of my favorite segments of “Project Runway” is when they have to create their own store interiors.
I love that show. One of my favorite designers from the show, Prajjé Oscar, is right here in Philly. He’s such a treat, I enjoy him very much. 

I should put him on my list of people to talk to. I remember interviewing Jay McCarroll, the season one winner from Philadelphia. As I recall, he turned down the prize money (back then it wasn’t the huge amount it is now) because he would have had to sign a very restrictive contract to get it. They changed the rule the next year, but he never got any compensation.
He’s the bearded dude who wears the big hats and glasses, right? I’ve crossed paths with him a number of times. He’s hilarious! 

So tell me about coming out.
Shortly after graduation, I couldn’t wrap my brain around constantly having to lie to every person I knew or met. I was very close with my grandmother and had moved into her Harlem apartment with her so I had to tell her what was up. I didn’t want to tell her, but I had no choice because I loved her and I needed to respect the relationship that I had with her enough to be honest and truthful. So she was one of the first people I told. And her reaction was one word, “So?” and that was that. She was totally cool with it and accepting and loving. 

It didn’t go the same way with my mom! It was a little rocky at first, but now she loves David. As I came out to the rest of the family, it was all love. But sometimes, we need to give people a moment to grieve the person they had in mind that you were going to be and get used to a new reality. 

Agreed. We forget that sometimes we’ve been dealing with the questions and uncertainties for 17 or 25 years before coming out and then we expect the person we tell to get with it in a week!
Yes. As I got older, I realized that they have their own ideas of who you were going to be before you even came into being. Give them some grace. I had to learn that. Once they see that you’re thriving and you’re holding your head up high and contributing to society, they come around or if not, they have to deal with not having you in their lives. Nine times out of 10, they realize that they miss you and would rather have you, then hold on to the disdain or misconceptions that they had. 

I think my mother thought gay people were out hanging from the ceilings at wild parties! One of the early things she said to me was, “I don’t want you bringing all your men into my house.” I had to laugh because at the time, I had no boyfriends, none. I was in a dry spell! I mean acrid! Nobody was checking me out! I thought, “God I wish I had somebody to bring to the house, never mind this giant cadre of men she thought I was with.”

Let’s talk fashion! What’s happening at Armour?
We’re going great. I’m the Creative Director, which is something that I’ve been doing since day one. And we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of the store this year. It’s been so great working beside David all these years and engaging with our amazing customers. I went from merchandising and doing the windows when we had the brick-and-mortar shop on Fabric Row to becoming the Creative Director. 

I remember that store. You had a vintage motorcycle in the window!
Yes, we had everything in that window! At one time, I even had live men in the window! It’s been great working with vendors, going to the trade shows in NY to source products, and writing up the stories on our website to promote the items we’re selling, as well as our brand. We are all online these days, along with doing pop-up events all around town. We just did one at a beautiful art gallery in Old City, the Thinker Makers Society. That was a lot of fun. We love partnering with people and organizations. 

What are some of the trends this year?
It’s all about comfort, especially after the wretched pandemic period we recently lived through. People are used to working in their pajamas and now that they’re back at work. They want to be comfortable. Every day is casual Friday! They want clothing they can wear all day and not think about but still be stylish. But you don’t need to wear yoga pants to work. There are plenty of options that look and feel good. We have some great tops that go with jeans or a plain pant. 

[Laughing] Are we finished with the rompers for men?
Well, I never really got on that bandwagon. They were kind of cute, on some people… but yes, I think we’ve moved on from that. 

Before we move on to rapid questions, tell me about the nonprofit you work with.
Being of service is really important to me and one of the ways I do that is with a group called, MenzFit. They’re an amazing organization that provides not just business clothing to disenfranchised men. They also do career development and teach financial literacy. I’m helping out with their 17th annual fashion show which is going to be in June at the Philadelphia Zoo. They’re right at 1500 Walnut Street and people can go to to donate. 

Wow, that’s great. OK, what was your worst fashion faux pas?
Multi colored socks! In the ’80s, I would coordinate my socks to these funky yellow and blue jeans and I’d roll up the cuffs so you could see the socks! I also have a picture of me in a Spuds MacKenzie sweatshirt and a pair of lime/neon green acid-washed jeans. Never again! 

What’s a song that makes you cry?
Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” from “A Star in Born.” I was on the verge of coming out and was having my first relationship, my first love. I remember being at his house. “Evergreen” was playing on a CD player — remember those? And it summed up everything I was feeling. To this day, as soon as she sings, “Love, soft as an easy chair…” I lose it! 

What is set as the background on your computer?
My great-nephew, Hendrixx. He’s the most adorable little man I’ve ever seen. I’m so incredibly enthralled with him. He’s just a joyful, beautiful baby. 

Which three figures, past or present, would you want at a dinner party?
I’d invite Malcom X, Willi Ninja and Bette Midler. Can you imagine the conversations at my table? Fun fact: Willi Ninja once stood up to a homophobe for me and my friends at New York’s legendary Club Shelter years ago. He refused the guy entrance to his party and didn’t blink.

If you had a theme song that played whenever you walk into a room full of people, what would it be?
That’s easy. “Private Dancer,” by Tina Turner. My legs are sturdy. [Laughs] God I miss that woman!

Simply the best! 

For more information on Armour, visit For anything fashion related, personal styling, etc, contact Eric Hatcher at [email protected].

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