Dapper Dan: From streets to high fashion
Dapper Dan: From streets to high fashion
The last MET Gala was filled with outrageous clothing, as the theme ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ runs high on edgy fashion that knows no boundaries. Outrageous makeup, giant robes and a plethora of colour donned the red carpet. One of the highlights that one could see on the backs of some outfits was an enormous slab of the words ‘Dapper Dan’ etched on it. Fashion’s prominent names like Ashley Graham and Karlie Kloss donned Gucci outfits touched by Dapper Dan.
Born in Harlem, New York, Dapper Dan grew up in rough neighbourhoods with poverty and gang-wars that pushed him into drug dealing. After being caught and then eventually released of charges of selling drugs, he started selling clothes out of a car in 1974 which eventually allowed him to open his own boutique called ‘Dapper Dan’s Boutique’ in 1982. One of the most prominent designs which the boutique was known for were the counterfeit luxury goods. In his interview with The Breakfast Club, he mentions that the gang-wars between the African-Americans and the Italian Mafia were fueled with money which the Italians would spend on luxury labels like Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton. Adding to this, many wholesalers would deny deals with him due to his race and location. Dan could not source high-end fabrics and furs on his own.
Dan saw this opportunity to show off to their opponents as well as disregard elitist racism by making counterfeits that looked almost real. He achieved this by printing monograms on pieces like jackets and tracksuits. His designs quickly gained popularity, as the idea of wearing counterfeits was a clap back at society’s unfair rules that many African-Americans revolted against. This approach was similar to an artist that was becoming popular during the time, Andy Warhol. His popularity grew as hip-hop gained massive recognition in the underground culture during the late 80s. He dressed prominent hip-hop artists like LL Cool J, Salt n Pepa, Bobby Brown, Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather.
However, in a series of discourse, his shop came into public light for illegal use of logos. Further, a copyright filing against the designer from Fendi shut the store down. Dan was back on the streets in 1992 with no store to operate. He continued to work underground with prominent celebrities like Floyd Mayweather getting styled by him. He eventually landed himself in the public light in 2017 as Gucci debuted their Cruise 2018 collection which featured a puffed sleeve jacket that resembled the one worn by Dianne Dixon. Her jacket was a mock-up of exaggerated sleeves with LV monogram printed over the sleeves. The body of the jacket was made of brown fur onto which the sleeves rested. Gucci’s version looked exactly the same with just Gucci’s monogram on it instead of LV’s. Twitter users were fired up as Gucci failed to credit him for the design.
Any other brand would have cared less about giving a struggling designer credit to their designs, however, Gucci’s Creative Director, Alessandro Michelle, acknowledged Dan’s contributions to push the luxury brand into a new audience. Since then, Dan has shared a close relationship with Gucci and Alessandro.
In 2019, Gucci released a black turtleneck sweater which had a hole in the collar rimmed with red outline. When the collar rolled up, it resembled blackface which caused a debacle in the fashion world. Gucci not only apologised for the incident but also ensured that such a disaster would not occur in the future by forming a diversity team headed by a Chief Diversity Officer. Not only this, Gucci also moved to Dan for help as he also questioned the sweater that made its way into the market before anyone carefully inspecting the product.
Dan, in turn, offered much-needed diversity lessons to Gucci’s staff along with several other members of the fashion industry in acknowledging efforts made by minorities into the tough fashion world that is white-dominated. Dan has since become an icon in the city of New York for pushing black education as well as discarding racism on several occasions. Dan works as a designer for Gucci with his atelier in Lennox Avenue in Harlem.