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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Dapper Dan

Dubbed as the original hip hop tailor, Dapper Dan’s boutique on 125th street in Harlem, NYC was the spot to get your gear hooked up (if you could afford it) during the 80′s and early 90′s when hip hop began to emerge in a more mainstream way.

Dapper Dan with hiphop legend, LL Cool J.

Born in Harlem, Dapper Dan (born Daniel Day) calls himself “a hustla/designer”. He opened his store in 1982 selling furs at a slightly lesser retail than his counterparts. As he tuned in more and more to his customer base and their wants, he began to do more customization, making bolder fashion statements throughout his designs.

Dapper Dan’s storefront in Harlem, 1984.

As his business grew, he began to add high fashion logos to his creations. Originally, he would buy and cut apart Gucci, Fendi and other coveted fashion brands’ handbags, but it was, of course, extremely expensive, especially if you wanted to create an entire suit. Eventually, he began to silkscreen the logos which created limitless possibilities for creating emblazoned jackets, hats, coats, even car interiors.

If you look at 80′s and 90′s hiphop album covers, magazine spreads, and vintage photos, you need not look far to see Dapper Dan’s creations. One of the many iconic photos is Eric B. and Rakim’s cover for their first album, “Paid in Full”. A classic album in its own right, but fans were not only excited about the music at the time but were also in awe of the custom Gucci leather jackets they were wearing.

Eric B. and Rakim’s album cover for “Paid in Full”. Both men are wearing custom jackets made by Dapper Dan.

Dapper Dan counted hip hop legends LL Cool J, the Fat Boys, and Big Daddy Kane (to name a few); boxing legends Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (who still commissions his services); drug kingpins and mini-kingpins like Alpo Martinez (whose parka jacket became known as the “Alpo”) and countless others in entertainment looking to have their clothes “Africanized” as Dap liked to call it.

Salt N Pepa in custom Dapper Dan jackets.

The obvious trademark infringement would eventually catch up to Dapper Dan but in an unusual way. One evening (or rather morning since it was 4:30AM), Mike Tyson came by to check on a piece that Dan was working on for him. Another boxer who had beef with Tyson showed up and an altercation ensued outside of the shop. The incident brought some unwanted attention to the shop as well as Dan’s creative license he’d been taking with his apparel. Not long after, Dan was raided and sued by most of the companies whose logos he’d used. By 1992, Dapper Dan’s boutique has closed its doors.

Mike Tyson showing off a custom Dapper Dan piece.

Dapper Dan is still well respected and acknowledged for his contributions to early hip hop and hip hop fashion. Though many have their own opinion about what he’d done or counterfeiting, he felt he was paying tribute to the brands, and his customers loved him for it.

His designs created an important niche within the fashion world which many luxury designers (who once looked down on Dap’s designs) now benefit from their newfound, “urban” customers.

Dapper Dan with Mike Colter from the Netflix series “Luke Cage”.

Today, Dapper Dan still has private clients, a blog, and continues to appear on various panels and symposiums speaking on fashion and the importance of giving back to the Black community.

After Gucci’s Resort 2018 show presented an “homage” (some would say swaggerjack) to one of Dap’s 80’s pieces, Alessandro Michele (creative director of Gucci) and Dan finally teamed up to re-open Dan’s custom boutique, the first major luxury brand to open doors in Harlem.

Dapper Dan has also written a book about his life and his influence in the fashion world. Check out this interview with Vogue with Dap talking about how it all started.

This post was originally published on February 1, 2018 and has been updated on February 2, 2021.

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