DANIEL DAY otherwise known as DAPPER DAN was in Lagos, Nigeria for the last edition of the GTBank Fashion Weekend. An African-American designer, he has revolutionised the American fashion industry. In this report, ADEDOYIN JOHNSON looks at the evolution of his brand.
Dressed in a sea-green jacket with a patterned pocket square, Dapper Dan looked stylish as he was led into the cramped media room at the 2018 edition of the GTBank Fashion Weekend. His oversized sunglasses accentuated his ebony skin. He was calm. He felt at home visiting Nigeria again one could tell. His earliest visit to Nigeria was in the late 1960s. He remembers the Nigerian Civil War.
Dapper Dan has been a man in the news. From his humble background in Harlem, United States, he has become a global fashion brand whose designs have inspired some renowned luxury fashion brands. Little wonder, he was sought by GTBank to share his insights on Making A Fashion Statement.
With his eponymous store on 125th street, Dapper Dan pioneered streetwear in the early 1980s, co-opting luxury branding to design original garments with high-end detail. A leading driver of the 1980s chic style, Dapper Dan began making clothes in Harlem, during which he was known for giving rap its signature music style. Dapper Dan is known to have made his own Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton for famous African American stars like Rakim, Mike Tyson, LL Cool J, and Erik B, Salt-N-Pepa, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Aaliyah, P.Diddy, Floyd Mayweather and many more. In the 1980s America, wearing prestigious brands was an obligation for rappers, a sign they had broken out of poverty and they are now famous.
Dapper Dan became intense with his craft and he became known for creating comfortable and copious clothes from Louis Vuitton, Fendi or Gucci branded fabrics. He became a principal at Africanising these famous names and sold his creations cut by Senegalese tailors at the back of his shop at low prices.
“Fashion for me is something that is practical. I do with fashion what we do with basketball. For me, luxury is about something that is wearable. Fashion to me is something that reflects your Africaness, your personality,” he tells me.
Dapper Dan is known in Harlem as a creator of his own kind of style, reproducing luxury goods from brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton into innovative outfits worn by locals.
From 1982 to 1992, is studio was known as the go-to-place by everyone in Harlem who wants a touch of luxury where they commission him to create furs, leather goods and other fashion pieces with unauthorised logos of designers. His counterfeiting was elevated to the level of art.
These replicas became trendy because they were affordable when a genuine Gucci T-shirt is more expensive. Beyond the price, it was also a matter of practicality, as many of his customers find Gucci’s designs impracticable. Dapper Dan had been a designer even before the luxury brands existed.
Although Dapper Dan was very successful, the fashion houses whose iconic logo he used started causing him pain. Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Gucci took him to court, he was convicted of piracy and intellectual property infringement. He had to stop his production in 1992.
In 2018, something interesting happened. The internet was agog with the news of how Gucci copied one of Dan Dapper’s designs showcased at its cruise collection show in Florence, Italy when a mink jacket was sent on the runway by Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. The Louis Vuitton logo long puff sleeve of the jacket in the original was changed to Gucci’s in the copied version.
“You have to understand, I am prepared to be copied the first day my store opened,” New York Times quoted Dapper as saying in a report. “My store first opened, and I couldn’t get designers garments in there, nobody would sell to me. I am talking 1982. This is 2017. That’s already behind me. The fact that it has to be two different worlds, I have already accepted that. I was just content satisfying the people in my community.”
Later, in what could be called a rare collaboration, Dapper Dan reopened his fashion studio and atelier in Harlem, he was supported by Gucci. This also led to a Gucci-Dapper Dan collaboration with design synergies between the designer and Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. Dapper Dan has been featured on platforms including The New York Times, Elle, Vogue, W, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, CNN, and Netflix. His works have been on display at The Smithsonian, The Museum at FIT, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art.
His experience of creating iconic fashion outfits, he shared with the enthusiastic audience at the GTBank Fashion Weekend. He talked largely about the fashion industry drawing largely from how he revolutionised the 1980s fashion by making the fresh dress style trendy than ever and by giving the fashion and luxury combo a second life.
Some of these experiences he has penned into a book he titled Made In Harlem: A Memoir.
Before the book’s release later in 2019, he gave GQ a first look at it. “I had good reasons for never closing the shop and rarely leaving it,” Dan writes in the prologue. “For one, a lot of my customers preferred late-night visits, for anonymity during the week or for the after-hours vibe of the weekends. I also had to keep an eye on my employees, who were backdooring my designs. It was my name on the awning out front, and in my world, your name means everything. It was my reputation, my brand, and people came from all over the city and beyond—from Philly and Chicago, Houston and Miami—because they wanted a Dapper Dan. I was the store, and the store was me. We were open all day every damn day for nine straight years.”