The legendary Dapper Dan, (Daniel Day) is a fashion icon who at the time was a true innovator and visionary for fabric and style. It’s safe to say that he may have been the pioneer to birth luxury streetwear. Merging blackness and hip-hop with luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci was a never before seen style to do. Catering these unique uses of garments to African-Americans at a time where these high-end fashion houses weren’t too fond of people of color.
Day’s craftsmanship was beyond contemporary, as his spirit of fashion still breathes throughout notable retailers and other fashion designers until this day. Back in 2017, Gucci causes controversy by reimagining the Harlem legend’s famous balloon-sleeve leather fur jacket that he crafted for then the Olympic runner, Diane Dixon in 1989. In 2018, Gucci makes up for it by collaborating with Dapper Dan for their Gucci resort 2018 campaign.
Dapper Dan, born as Daniel Day in the summer of 1944 in Harlem, at the time was one of America’s notorious neighborhoods. Day grew up without a silver spoon, his family was mostly poor. In a New York Times interview, he states “My sense of style came from having holes in my shoes,” he said. “I was in third grade, and I would put cardboard and paper in the bottom of my shoes, but it got to the point where the soles were just gone.”
As Day got older he turned into a professional gambler and hustler. He hung around different gangsters and witness different kingpins, pimps, and even historical figures such as Malcolm X walk the streets of Harlem. Seeing their swagger is what inspired the style of Dapper Dan today. He got his name “Dapper Dan” by beating a notable gangsta in Harlem who was the originator of the name in a craps game. The originator gifted him the name.
In 1982, he opened his own boutique store on East 125th street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. In conjunction with the rise of hip hop as it was stepping into the mainstream world with pop music, Dapper Dan began to make his mark on the world and flourished. During the cocaine-80s era, Dan came to the realization of the power of labels and brands. As he noticed that these luxury brands such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and MCM were keeping African Americans on the outskirts, he began to do what he calls “Knock-ups.”
It’s his way of saying, although these are knock offs, I’m making them look better. By illegally using those brands’ logos and placing them on his own garments, Dan began to make something that was couture, something that was unique and special. His boutique would soon welcome in Harlem’s notorious gangsters and street hustlers. He then began to style notable music artists such as Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa and Eric B & Rakim, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long til these luxury brands that he was mimicking decided to shut down Dap’s boutique for good. Law Enforcements executed a raid-in into his boutique, took mostly everything from Dap in 1992. This was soon after he created a custom black and white jacket for Mike Tyson with the caption “Don’t believe the hype”, a famous lyric from Public Enemy. (Fun Fact: Mike Tyson was dating Naomi Campbell at the time.)
His massive style of creativity brought elegance that defined the swagger of hip hop in its extravagance. With his all over bootlegging logo prints, that were placed on high-end leather, silk, and fur fabrics, it placed Dapper Dan as a tailor, stylist, and visionary that couldn’t be matched. He elevated the level of streetwear. Dan brought every element of hip hop into the world of luxury and became the inventor of “fresh” and “dapper”.