celebrating the legacy of dapper dan from 80s harlem to the runway

Decades before high fashion embraced Yeezy and Young Thug, Daniel Day was creating wildly innovative mashups of hip-hop and high-end fashion out of his 125th Street boutique.

by Hannah Ongley
31 May 2017, 3:50pm

Greek gods, Florentine dynasties, splendid Boboli Garden statues — all received a hat tip at Gucci's cruise 18 show at the Pitti Palace. Also present was the paterfamilias of Harlem's radical fashion scene. Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan, wasn't explicitly name-checked by Alessandro Michele. But more than one look was undoubtedly inspired by the entrepreneur who first introduced hip-hop and high fashion in his 125th Street boutique back in 92.

In 2015, Dapper Dan told Interview that the "knock-upped" Louis Vuitton puffer that just resurfaced on the runway was one of his favorite creations — alongside the "Alpo Coat" he created for infamous Harlem druglord Alberto Martinez. Other pop culture heavyweights who frequented Dapper Dan's 24-hour storefront included NBA players and athletes, followed by hip-hop artists: Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, Diddy, and Run-D.M.C. Among the designer's detractors? Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and of course, Gucci, all of which sued and/or raided Dapper Dan at various points throughout its decade-long life. One of the nails in the boutique's coffin was a lawsuit brought by Fendi in the late 80s, when Michele was still in high school.

It's hardly the first time high fashion has riffed on designer bootleg culture. Gucci's renaissance man has been riding the rip-off revival for seasons now, creating his own versions of the $20 copies that are pressed on the spot at roadside markets. Authentic Gucci t-shirt and hoodies, by comparison, start at $425 and $1,200 respectively. When Dapper Dan was a peddling to hustlers in the early 80s, the high-end brands sold further down Madison Avenue were much less keen on street aesthetics. Dan's customers probably wouldn't have touched the logo at all had it not been appropriated from a sleek Gucci garment bag and stitched onto the yoke of an outrageous fur jacket, or glitzy tracksuit onesie. (When Dapper Dan started getting requests for those more extravagant pieces, he pioneered a new way to appropriate fabrics, using a silk screen method that could stick to leather.)

"I Africanized it," Dan told The New Yorker in 2013. "Took it away from that, like, Madison Avenue look." His early customers, many of whom earned their money through the uptown crack trade that plagued Harlem in the early 80s, were quite happy to pay "authentic" prices for "fake" fashion. "You had to pay on the same level as if it was from Gucci," Alpo's former partner-in-drug-crime Azie Faison said at the time. "So it is Gucci, to us." The magazine also noted that many clients paired their logomaniacal Dapper Dan with legit Gucci loafers from the midtown flagship. Some customers — i.e. Mike Tyson — were simply too large to fit the original slim-shouldered threads.

In one of his wildly popular Instagram posts of bootleg Gucci garb, New York reseller Brian Procell explained the brand's knock-off appeal thusly: "in the late 80s everyone had them. in the early 90s people still wore them. in the late 90s they were abandoned. in the early 2000s some cool people rocked them. In the later 2000s they became valuable. 2-5 years ago no one cool [really] cared. Now they're back like cooked CRACK. the immortal #bootleggucci," finishing the caption with a fire emoji. It's a unexpectedly apt symbol for both Gucci and Dapper Dan in 2017. On eBay, where "gucci" is the first thing to pop up when you type "bootleg," there's a Dapper Dan original going for a cool $599.99. Even Jay Z, who spent the early 2000s rapping about his preference for real Gs on his chest, has since recognized Dapper Dan's incredible influence on hip-hop, Harlem history, and high fashion. 

The entrepreneur himself, though, doesn't pay attention to the runway at all. "When you've been excluded from the class, and they're going on a trip, you usually don't follow along on the trip," he told Vanity Fair in 2015. "So I never really kept up with what transpires there." In the age of Yeezy, Young Thug, and A$AP Rocky, the relationship between hip-hop and high fashion is more of a two-way street, but credit should go both ways too. 

Related: How to appreciate a culture without appropriating it


Text Hannah Ongley
Images via instagram 

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