Dapper Dan Life and Legacy
Earlier this year, at the annual Met Gala, the astoundingly gorgeous Ashely Graham walked the red carpet sporting a massively awesome Gucci blazer designed by hip hop fashion royalty, Dapper Dan.
Born in Harlem in 1944, Daniel Day was already a notable gambler by the time he was thirteen years old. The money he was able to obtain from his street hustles and earned at his journalism job, ultimately led to his fashion start up. Selling shoplifted items out of the trunk of his car. By 1982, he was able to open Dapper Dan’s Boutique on 125th street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. It was located just a few blocks from where Day grew up.
His original plan was to become a wholesaler, but Day consistently encountered problems while attempting to find businesses that would take him seriously. Having to pave his way from an early age, Day did what any successful entrepreneur does when faced with adversity. He found an unconventional solution to his rather annoying problem. Hitting the pavement, the kid from Harlem took it upon himself to learn everything he could about the global fashion industry, from business development to design.
The ‘Dapper’ in Dapper Dan
Part of his self-education was learning how to print textiles. Being an ambitious risk taker, he used bootleg fabrics to make high-fashion prints. Often ripping off the symbology and iconography of massively popular brands. Soon, Daniel Day truly grew into his now infamous persona, Dapper Dan. Even though he was not the first person to sell back alley merchandise with bootleg branding. He was one of the first to elevate them to a whole new level. The “dapper” in his name is fully intentional; creating custom designs for his increasingly growing clientele. Dapper Dan built an exclusive, high-fashion brand.
His clients were individuals who understood and shared his ambitious nature: According to GQ’s interview
“Dap is most readily known as the tailor and couturier who gave rap music (and the cocaine ’80s) its signature style, draping everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Mike Tyson in unforgettable, one-of-a kind counterfeits of the trendiest upmarket brands of the day: Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and MCM—acts of sartorial piracy so extravagant, so daring, that they demanded to be described with the neologism ‘knockups’ rather than knockoffs… Dapper Dan made luxury even more luxurious, producing custom looks in fur and designer leather, scarcely affordable for anyone outside the elite circles of sports stars and drug kingpins.”
For a decade
Dapper Dan enjoyed the privilege of living his dream. Then, came the nightmare. As the reputations and careers of his clients grew, so did the reach of his brand. Thanks to the growing popularity of hip hop music videos, Fendi learned of Dapper Dan. Enlisting the legal services of then U.S. Attorney Sonia Sotomayor. Fendi guarantee that Dapper Dan’s Boutique was shut down for good in 1992. How, then, did Ashley Graham end up wearing one of Dapper Dan’s designs at 2019 Met Gala? Fashion’s most buzzed about media event of the year.
Although Dapper Dan lost his store and was subsequently shunned by the mainstream fashion world. Continued to work with private clients like Floyd Mayweather, who became one of his most loyal patrons in 1999. Furthermore, Underground, hip hop successfully emerged and infiltrated the mainstream; and so had Dapper Dan’s signature style. “‘Fashion has always been an important part of the hip-hop identity because fashion has always been an important part of black identity in America,’ says producer and filmmaker Sacha Jenkins, director of the 2015 hip-hop fashion documentary ‘Fresh Dressed.’”
Fast forward to 2017
“Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s magpie creative director, whose taste for mixing and mingling wildly disparate elements is his signature, was staging his cruise collection show, a hodgepodge of Renaissance, 1980s and street wear references, half gilded, half granny, half gamine… Among the show’s 115 looks, one stood out to many observers: a fur-paneled bomber jacket with enormous balloon sleeves in the Gucci double-G logo. It looked, as online pundits quickly pointed out, just like one designed by Daniel Day, better known as the imitation artist Dapper Dan.”
Out of this homage, a collaboration was born Gucci and Dapper Dan joined forces. Today, courtesy of Gucci, Dapper Dan is heading a new boutique. While the esteemed brand provides all of the fabrics, Dapper Dan pours his imagination into creating a whole new generation of designs. As hip hop taught us through the ages, every person can become a brand. When a designer is capable of creating pieces that eventually come to define a movement. Even if the individual did it illegally, it is best to bring that person on to your team than to try to destroy their enduring legacy.