Dapper Dan | The value of building a brand driven by culture

“Culture is the wheels that drive fashion”

Dapper Dan

 

“Black fashion’s greatest treasure.” BET

“The original auteur of gangster chic.” GQ

“The Godfather of hip-hop fashion.” The Source

“A legent.” Chicago Tribune

 

He’ s a master couturier, an “out of the box” designer, a fashion icon. He established the high- end streetwear, from a storefront in Harlem to the red carpet in Hollywood, dressing everyone from Salt-N-Pepa and Eric B. & Rakim to Beyoncé and JAY Z along the way.

Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, born in 1944. He started selling on the street way before he decided to open up shop. From the age of 25 he realized that he had to establish himself as the reflection of his own brand.  “If people didn’t like the way I dressed, I wouldn’t have had the attention or the credibility. I grew up in a poor area in East Harlem – I can’t think of any of my friends who didn’t have holes in their shoes at any given time – so we were always attracted to clothes. That was the catalyst to make me want to be really sharp.” When asked if he ever goes low-key with jeans and a tee or whether it’s always about statement dressing, he replies emphatically: “Statement! Statement! Always have to look like I’m made. I have to dress to generate excitement, so people can say, ‘Damn! I wanna do that!’”

Further exploration led him on a journey to Africa through a program called The Urban League. After that, he was ready to serve his home and himself in a way he thought made the most sense, through the “Africanization” of high-end European brands.

 

He earned tremendous revenue as the owner of Dapper Dan’s Boutique which was opened in 1982 on 125th street. Wearing renowned brands was imperative for rappers, since it was perceived as an indication of wealth and status. Dapper Dan became a fashion icon for all the MCs of the time. The most famous bands of this period, such as Salt-N-Pepa, Run D.M.C., Public Enemy and the Fat Boys were all wearing his creations. During these years, he freely (and without permission) used the logo prints of companies like Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Gucci to create custom clothing items and objects, including car interiors and boxing trunks. As a result, he faced multiple lawsuits from luxury brands that claimed he had violated their copyrights, and by 1992 he forced to close his iconic boutique.

Of course, this couldn’t be the end of the story for such an insightful designer like Dapper. Surprisingly, at the beginning of 2018 Gucci and Dapper Dan collaborated for the first time, a thought that existed since 2017. Their joint venture opened in January of 2018, following years of mutual admiration and imitation. After 25 years, he got back in business launching new Boutique partnering with Gucci on Lenox Avenue and along with his son Jelani Day is working on his company Dapper Dan of Harlem. Gucci found and decorated the three-story space on Lenox Avenue in consultation with Mr. Day. The ground floor features the main showroom and fitting area, the second floor is reserved for “V.I.P.” customers like Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and the basement is for production. “I would classify what I had back in the day as the third-floor, and now I’m on the roof,” Mr. Day said, comparing the store he ran decades ago to this one. “What we have here is the finished product of what I was trying to do there.”

Since the early days of his business, Mr. Day has maintained a specific approach to greeting customers. “Luxury stores in the past didn’t treat people of color with the dignity I think they deserve,” he said. “I would be sitting over here and when I spotted them I would jump up to show how enthusiastic I am and run to the door. Give them my signature smile. Open the door for them, welcome them in, ask them how they’ve been.”

 

At some point during a customer’s visit, Mr. Day said, “I’ll slip in, ‘Everything in your mind might not look good on your behind.’” He often asks guests to bring in an item they already own — one that they think fits well. Mr. Day and his team then use those proportions as guidelines for how that person wants the clothing to fall across the body. “The thing about fitting people, is that you can measure someone, have their exact measurements but that does not tell you how they like their clothes to feel on them,” Mr. Day said. He explained that some people want a tighter fit while others prefer a looser look.

The collection, created with Gucci materials, consists of garments and accessories that draw inspiration from Dan’s work and pay tribute to Harlem. As Dapper Dan put it during his interview: “The initial conversation was an agreement [with Gucci] that I would open up and I wouldn’t have to produce any fabrics; they would supply me with all the fabrics,” Dapper Dan explains. “I’m super happy with the variations that they gave us. Especially the things that I was familiar with, the GG prints, of course. I can be as creative as I want, within the context of what Gucci’s all about, you know, their standard…which I raise the bar on.”

However, in the wake of a racism scandal that saw Gucci withdraw a polo neck sweater after complaints it resembled blackface, the relationship between both sides looks uneasy once more. Posting about the incident on Instagram on Sunday, Dan released a statement in which he said there is “no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult,” and explained that he was meeting with Gucci bosses in Harlem. He ended his decisive statement by writing: “There cannot be inclusivity without accountability. I will hold everyone accountable.”

 

References:
  • Cooper, Barry Michael (June 3, 2017). “The Fashion Outlaw Dapper Dan”. The New York Times.
  • Valeriya Safronova (March 20, 2018). “Inside Dapper Dan and Gucci’s Harlem Atelier”. The New York Times.
  • Edwin Stats Houghton (March 5, 2018). “Dapper Dan Talks Gucci Partnership, Dressing Harlem’s Notorious Gangsters, and Getting Busted by Sonia Sotomayor”. GQ Magazine
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