Icons / September 2017

Dapper Dan: Harlem's Hip Hop Tailor

The originator of luxury streetwear, Dapper Dan created clothing for those marginalised by high fashion, helping to cement his iconic status in New York City and beyond.

Dapper Dan with American rapper LL Cool J sporting his custom made Gucci bomber jacket, circa 1986.

At Gucci’s resort show earlier this year, a model was sent down the runway sporting a leather jacket with the house’s monogram logo emblazoned across its heavily exaggerated, balloon-like sleeves. To some, it was one look of many, yet to others it was a look that represented a monumental moment that shook the intersection of the hip-hop and luxury fashion worlds.

The significance of this moment is that the design was an homage to a jacket the legendary designer Dapper Dan made for Diane Dixon, a retired Olympic sprinter, in the late 1980s. Ironically, Dixon’s jacket was clad in Louis Vuitton’s monogram, not Gucci’s. So what we have here is a European luxury house retrospectively paying homage to a 30-year-old bootleg jacket, that in itself was ripping off a competing luxury house. Intense debate then flooded the Internet and social media. Was it a rip-off or a sign of respect? The general consensus was that it was the latter, and that Alessandro Michele, Creative Director of Gucci, has recognised the work of the once-upon-a-time industry outlaw. Furthermore, as of earlier this week, Michele put Dapper Dan in front of the camera to star in Gucci’s resort 2018 campaign, with a collaboration between the two also in the pipeline.

Born Daniel Day in Harlem, New York, in the 1950s, he opened his haberdasher-come-boutique in 1982 on East 125th Street. At times, it was open 24-hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year - street hustlers and rappers kept to no man’s watch. Dapper Dan’s precipitous rise came at a perfect moment in New York’s chronology; it was during the 1980s when hip-hop began to prove itself as a commercially successful and viable genre and his success rose in conjunction with it. At the same time, it sadly became plagued by the crack cocaine epidemic which was rife in predominantly working-class and African American neighbourhoods, including Harlem. However, both of these factors created money and a local economy that ensured Dap’s business would thrive.

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Benedict Browne

Benedict is The Rake's Associate Style Editor.