Black Excellence: The Legendary Dapper Dan

Black Excellence: The Legendary Dapper Dan

To kick off Black History Month at VMAN, we celebrate the career of the fashion innovator of the 80's.

To kick off Black History Month at VMAN, we celebrate the career of the fashion innovator of the 80's.

Text: Dominique Norman

VMAN is celebrating the legends who gave us fashion, culture, music and more during Black History Month with the series Black Excellence. The first of this series explores the iconic career of Dapper Dan.

Daniel Day, otherwise known as the legendary Dapper Dan, opened his Harlem boutique on the historic 125th Street in Harlem in 1982. However, this isn’t where his journey as the Dapper Dan began.

While it’s easy to think Dapper Dan has been a Harlem dandy his whole life, he makes sure he pays homage to his roots every chance he gets, whether he’s giving the keynote at FashionistaCon or a talk at the Museum of Modern Art. His style, he claims, originates from having holes in his shoes as a kid. Needing to dress to impress became a necessity for Dapper Dan, to look the part, so he learned how to make his own clothes and finesse high end style.

In high school, he began exploring the Black consciousness movement, saying “I personally was involved with the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers and an organization called the Mighty Black Zulus”, which was different from the Zulu Nation of the Bronx. A few years later he had the opportunity to travel to Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Tanzania and learn from local tailors, bringing back inspiration to his home of Harlem.

Dapper Dan dressed many of hip-hop’s heavy hitters, including LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. and Rakim, and KRS-One. But his clientele was not just limited to musicians. He also dressed the ballers, hustlers, athletes and celebrities of the time, such as Olympian Diane Dixon, Floyd Mayweather, and Mike Tyson. The infamous Diane Dixon jacket from 1989 was brought back into the spotlight when a near identical jacket was featured in Gucci’s 2018 Resort collection. Gucci quickly redeemed themselves by paying homage to Dap for the look, and collaborating in a new venture: opening a new Dapper Dan Harlem atelier, which just opened its doors last month.

However, Day’s use of designer logos wasn’t in vain, or to make tacky knockoffs, but to address the issue of racism in the fashion industry. Black customers were coming to Dapper Dan for products that they could not purchase from luxury brands at the time. Steve Stoute, chief executive of marketing firm Translation notes that “Luxury brands, at that point, were not for us.” Another issue was sizing. Mike Tyson said that’s what brought him to Dapper Dan’s Boutique, saying that “They don’t carry clothes for big black men like me”.

Dapper Dan’s Boutique closed in 1992 after luxury fashion houses sued him for using their logos. He went underground until the latest reopening of the Harlem atelier, but not without gaining recognition along the way. A$AP Ferg, whose father worked for Dapper Dan in the 80’s, said in an interview for the New York Times, “What Dap did was take what those major fashion labels were doing and made them better...He taught them how to use their designs in a much more effective way. Dap curated hip-hop culture.” Jay-Z has paid homage to him in a major way as well, not only shouting him out in his music, but also in curating a playlist on his music platform, Tidal, of all the songs that have ever mentioned his name. Two of his screen-printed leather jackets were also included in the recent MoMA exhibit, Items: Is Fashion Modern? And he’s been teasing of a tell-all book in the works. Regardless of where he goes next, we know that we owe so much of today’s fashion trends to the uptown legend, Dapper Dan.

Scroll through the gallery below to see some of the iconic Dapper Dan looks.

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