The story of Dapper Dan is one of resilience. To understand the struggle, one must journey back in time to the process that led this self-made entrepreneur into the fashion global figure he is today.
During the Civil Rights era the man formally known to his community as Daniel Day worked for the Harlem newspaper Forty Acres & A Mule, and toured Africa with Columbia University. It wasn’t long before the fashion bug led him away. His initial plan was to become a clothing wholesaler, but faced incredible barriers of prejudice and racism, as companies refused to sell him furs and textiles, this eventually led him to a self-taught path of textile printing. With no capital and rampant redlining, Daniel became a successful gambler, earning himself enough money to finance his first shop, Dapper Dan’s boutique located on 125th Street, between Madison & 5th Avenue. He studied all major brands and symbolism to exploit the symbol so that it was palatable to his clients. Malcom X “Message to the Grass Roots” taught him to study the seed to understand the flower and apply that to fashion, taking a brand and incoparating his vision into it.
The Dapper Dan boutique specialized in couture pieces with trademark luxury logos from Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi, global brands that were unwelcoming spaces for non-whites. Daniel’s first clients were what he called “Hustlers,” then came the music industry, with talent greats like Jay-Z, Salt n’ Pepa, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, The Fat Boys, Bobby Brown, KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane. Boxing champs included Mike Tyson & Floyd Mayweather. Although Dapper Dan designs were tailor-made, the use of trademark logos led to legal battles that ultimately closed his first store, but Daniel continued to pursue fashion.
In 2017, Gucci approached Dapper Dan with a business opportunity. He told Gucci he wanted a partnership, not a collaboration. Gucci promised him a collection based on everything he created in the 80s and he would get a percentage of that globally. The Dapper Dan fashion line with Gucci allowed Daniel to open up a second shop, a new atelier on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
In early 2019, a black balaclava-style Gucci sweater with oversized red lips received social media backlash for resembling blackface. The item was immediately removed from Gucci’s stores and website. Gucci released a statement saying they would launch internal training to increase inclusivity, diversity, participation and cultural awareness, but to the general public this wasn’t just an oversight, it was a reoccurring problem with European brands. 50 Cent, TI, Spike Lee and Soulja Boy joined the Gucci boycott.
During Black History month, a time to reflect and celebrate black achievements and The Harlem Renaissance, Daniel Day met before a Macy’s audience to address the controversy. He told listeners, he sees every mistake made by global brands as an opportunity to reform the brand by obligating them to open another door for inclusivity. He criticized entertainers who promote luxury brands without making a profit, saying it’s foolish to promote a brand and not be financially part of that brand. Daniel went on to defend his position at Gucci, stating designers like Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs made their success copying his fashion blue print. During a Q&A, Daniel revealed the black middle class were not his clients, so he catered his niche to unsavory characters “gangsters” who paid no allegiance to brands, they just wanted what they wanted. Daniel credited two European magazines with promoting his brand, followed by 40 other white publications. Ebony magazine, he said, was the last to honor him. By winning the Europeans over, Daniel said it opened the black middle class to his designs. He warned the audience that gentrification displaced the black population from Harlem, but because of his business venture he was able to stay in Harlem and pay his brownstone in full. Daniel believes the Dapper Dan boutique has opened more doors for other black entrepreneurs to walk through.
[FROM THE EVENT]
[FROM THE Q&A]
[FROM THE RED CARPET]
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