You may not know Dapper Dan, but you surely know his influence. Dapper Dan is a designer who has been working in the industry since the 1980s, and has dressed celebrities like Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z. Today, Dapper Dan is a close collaborator with Gucci and with them he runs Dapper Dan’s of Harlem, the first and only high fashion boutique in Harlem.
Born Daniel Day in 1944, Dapper Dan was born and raised in Harlem, New York. In 1982 he opened Dapper Dan’s boutique on 125th Street in Harlem. His original intention was to be a clothing wholesaler, but he faced prejudice when trying to buy textiles due to his race and his shop’s location in Harlem. Instead he began creating his own styles from scratch, teaching himself everything he needed to know about printing and design. He even invented a new process to screen print onto leather, which he used to create his “knock-ups”. These were designs of his own creation that used logos of famous brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton. The store was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and was frequented by gangsters, hustlers, and up-and-coming rappers.
The golden age of Hip Hop was one styled by Dapper Dan. While Hip Hop artists were sampling other tracks to make new and unique rap music, Dapper Dan was “sampling” high fashion logos to give artists the style and image of Hip Hop.
Mike Tyson was one of Dapper Dan’s biggest clients and associates in the 1980s, and when he got in a fight outside Dapper Dan’s Boutique in 1988, it drew law enforcement to the shop and signaled the beginning of the end of the shop. Dapper Dan’s use of other brand’s copyrighted logos also put him in legal trouble, with his store being subject to many counterfeiting raids, especially as his designs grew in notoriety. Dapper Dan’s Boutique was closed for good in 1992 following an ongoing lawsuit with Fendi. He spent decades shunned by the world of high fashion, despite the enormous influence his work had on the brands whose logos he used.
This mink fur and Louis Vuitton logo coat is perhaps Dapper Dan’s most iconic piece. It was a custom order from Olympic runner Diane Dixon in 1988, who is shown here, photographed by Dapper Dan, modeling the coat. This coat represented much of his aesthetic: fur, logos, and over-the-top style that the high fashion brands were not putting out themselves. In 2017, Gucci made a coat that was strikingly similar.
They failed to say this was a homage until after they already received criticism for using Dan’s design. This brought up many questions about the legitimacy of Dapper Dan’s designs, copyright law in fashion, and intellectual property. While there may not be a clear-cut answer to those questions, Alessandro Michele, who made the Gucci coat, maintained that he was a huge fan of Dan’s work, and Gucci enlisted him to model for their men’s tailoring campaign later that year. In 2018, Dapper Dan created his first capsule collection with Gucci.
Today, logo-mania is as big as ever, and Dapper Dan is an icon in the fashion industry. Since his entrance into the mainstream with Gucci in 2017, he has dressed countless celebrities. Dapper Dan now has his own Gucci atelier in Harlem, not too far from the original boutique. I, for one, am, happy to see that this designer who transformed streetwear, hip hop, and high fashion is finally getting the recognition and legitimacy that he always deserved. Today, Dapper Dan’s work with Gucci has been worn by countless celebrities, and was a favorite at the 2019 Met Gala.
Dapper Dan is currently working on a memoir, which is available for pre-order here. To read more about Dapper Dan, I recommend his interview with The New York Times . For an inside look at his iconic balloon-sleeved Louis Vuitton coat, Diane Dixon was interviewed by The Cut. You can also get a look inside the new Dapper Dan’s of Harlem here.