Dapper Dan (designer)
Dan during an interview in December 2019
August 8, 1944
Harlem, New York
|Occupation||businessman, fashion designer, tailor|
|Known for||Dapper Dan's Boutique, Dapper Dan's of Harlem|
Daniel Day (born August 8, 1944), known as Dapper Dan, is an American fashion designer and haberdasher from Harlem, New York. His influential store, Dapper Dan's Boutique, operated from 1982–92 and is most associated with introducing high fashion to the hip hop world, with his clients over the years including Eric B. & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z. In 2017, he launched a fashion line with Gucci, with which he opened a second store and atelier, Dapper Dan's of Harlem, in 2018.
Dan was born in Harlem, New York, in 1944, and grew up on 129th and Lexington Avenue with three brothers and three sisters. His father, Robert, was a civil servant and his mother, Lily, a homemaker. He is African American. He recalls horses and buggies still on the streets in his early childhood, in the post-World War II days of Manhattan. By age 13, he was a skilled gambler; his success as a gambler helped him finance his first store.
In the 1960s, Day worked for a Harlem newspaper called Forty Acres and a Mule. He eventually became a vegetarian and gave up drinking, smoking and drugs. In 1968–74, he toured Africa as part of a program from Columbia University and the Urban League.
Dapper Dan's Boutique
When Dan returned to New York in 1974, he decided to be a clothier, and first sold shoplifted items out of his car. Dapper Dan's Boutique, located on 125th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, opened in 1982, and at times was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dan originally planned to be a clothing wholesaler but soon faced prejudice as he ventured out. He struggled to buy the textiles and furs he needed, as most companies refused to do business with him because of his race or location. Instead of purchasing outfits to sell, he began teaching himself as much as he could about the industry so he could create his own designs from scratch. Dapper Dan's brash "knock-ups" used bootlegged fabrics he designed himself after teaching himself textile printing. Notably, he invented a new process for screen printing onto leather, and would later also design jewelry and car interiors for luxury automobiles.
The opening of his store in the early 1980s coincided with the crack cocaine epidemic and the rise of hip-hop music, both of which boosted his clientele. Dan's trademark was his bold usage of logos from high-end luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi.
Though his clothing was often referred to as streetwear, Day's early clients in the 1980s were inspired significantly by the fashion flamboyance of Rat Pack icons like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. His main clientele were "hustlers and street people" — including drug kingpin Alpo Martinez — some of whom even requested bullet-proof parkas and hats.
Day ventured into hip hop fashion in 1985, when he first styled LL Cool J, and Day has since been associated with hip-hop royalty. Eric B. & Rakim who wore Dapper Dan's designs on the cover of their iconic albums Paid in Full (1987) and Follow The Leader (1988). He also created looks for The Fat Boys, Salt-N-Pepa, KRS-One, Bobby Brown, Jam Master Jay and Big Daddy Kane, as well as sports stars such as boxers Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, and athlete Diane Dixon.
Day's illegal use of logos in his custom-made designs led to counterfeiting raids and litigation, and ultimately the demise of his first store. In 1988, Tyson got into a brawl with Mitch Green outside his store, which put Dapper Dan's in the media spotlight for the first time. After Tyson was photographed wearing a "knock off" Fendi jacket from Dapper Dan — which was referred to as "an all-night clothing store that caters to performers" in The New York Times — interest in the store eventually brought his usage of European luxury fashion logos to the attention of those retailers across the Atlantic. In 1992, after legal action by Fendi and then-U.S. Attorney Sonia Sotomayor, Dapper Dan's was shut down for good. He was shunned by the mainstream fashion world for decades, though he continued to work "underground" as a designer. He began outfitting Floyd Mayweather in 1999.
Day's career has been revitalized in the 2010s, and he has found mainstream success since 2017. In mid-2017, in an homage to Dapper Dan, Gucci's creative director Alessandro Michele designed a jacket based on a well-known Dapper Dan design for Diane Dixon in 1989. The original was a fur-lined jacket with balloon sleeves covered in the Louis Vuitton logo, which Michele replaced with the double-G Gucci logo. Social media reacted when Dixon shared a photo of the Gucci jacket next to her in the original one, with Dixon requesting that Dapper Dan get credit for his original; many believed that Gucci had stolen the Dapper Dan design, especially due to Gucci not stating it to be a homage until after they drew criticism.
In popular culture
In 2001, Dapper Dan was referenced in a Jay-Z lyric in his song "U Don't Know" from his album The Blueprint. In 2002, he was referenced multiple times in the Alpo Martinez crime film Paid in Full.
In September 2016, prior to the premiere of the Netflix original series Luke Cage, Dapper Dan was featured in part of the "Street Level Hero" digital social video series to discuss Luke Cage, which is set in Harlem.
Day's memoir will be published by Random House in 2019. Sony Pictures has already bought the rights to a film adaptation, with comedian Jerrod Carmichael attached as screenwriter and producer. Day will serve as executive producer of the film.
Dan has eight children, William Day, Daniel Day Jr., Danique Day, Aisha Day, Danielle Day, Malik Day, Tiffany White and Jelani Day, who is the brand manager for his father.
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