Daniel Day AKA Dapper Dan was born in the 1950s in Harlem, New York. He grew up wearing rags with three older brothers and a group of cousins who were already well on their way to a life of crime. All around him, appearance was important, and when you live in the pits it is one of the only ways to still look like a million dollar man.
Dapper Dan (1984)
Dap opened a shop with his name in 1983, at 43 East 125th Street, where he made furs and always sold them cheaper than the market price.
His uptown clientele was a heady mix of hustlers, street cats, and hip-hop royalty, all of whom shared a mutual love of what Dan himself called a “macho type of ethnic ghetto clothing”.
His margins were small, but sales volumes made up the difference and business was booming. His customers were all competing to get the freshest coat, and Dan started thinking about how to sate their appetite for luxury. In the 1980s luxury brands targets were the highest and sophisticated part of society, while Dap brought to light the concept of luxurious street-wear aimed to reach who was excluded before.
Dapper Dan’s boutique in Harlem (1984)
He started by buying up stocks of Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, cutting them up to use the monogrammed leather in his own creations. It was fabulous and horribly expensive, but the Harlem hustlers had bottomless pockets when it came to showing off their success.
Dan’s creations were Harlem certified, blends of Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, and MCM, with mixtures of mink, ostrich, crocodile and python. A true example of taking back fashion by pulling it closer to surrealist prêt-à-porter. Dapper Dan managed to rework luxury brands’ codes to bring them back to the street with disruptive creativity, even becoming as famous as the brands themselves in certain circles.
Before the likes of Kanye West and Rihanna were doing it, Dapper Dan was the first to bring designer fashion into the context of street culture. Dubbed “Hip Hop’s fashion godfather” who “planted the seed for fashion” in the music genre, his clients list included everyone: from Harlem hustlers to the likes of Run DMC, Mike Tyson, Salt and Pepa, LL Cool J and Bobby Brown, who would spend hours at his store which stayed open all night and day for 8 years.
Dapper Dan with LL Cool J wearing a custom Gucci jacket.
Fat Boys in Dapper Dan’s Louis Vuitton jackets.
In 1988, two of Dapper Dan’s clients, boxers Mike Tyson and Mitch Green crossed paths upon entering and leaving the Harlem boutique at 5 in the morning. The encounter resulted in an almighty fight that hit headlines everywhere and landed Dan’s boutique with some unwanted publicity. As a result of the exposure, the brands that had refused to sell Dan their wares for his street boutique, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi, all sued him.
Mike Tyson with his custom made jacket “Don’t believe the hype”.
While it is no surprise that the designer brands objected to Dapper Dan’s use of their logos during the rise of Harlem’s crack era, it is still worth recognizing that what Dapper Dan did was a totally original re-imagination of style.
Vintage Dapper Dan X LV Nike Air Force 1.
People in Harlem in the 1990s.
Jam Master Jay in 1986 in Dapper Dan from head-to-toe.
Dapper Dan was forced to close its doors in 1992. After the closing of the boutique, Dap continued work for private clients throughout the United States. The conscious hip-hop fans will surely have noticed his work. In 2001, at the Grammy Awards ceremony, Nelly showed up wearing a Louis Vuitton’ sport coat and leather pants with matching logos. In “Let’s Get It” a music video that popularized the original dance “Harlem Shake”, Sean “Diddy” Combs and other rappers wear Fendi dresses that have the distinct look of 125th Street.
Dapper Dan in Harlem (2012).
Today, Dapper Dan, that is approaching 70 years old, even though he never confirmed his age exactly, is pretty trim to pull off what he would wear in his 20s, and does not believe there is a way to dress up for ages. Everything depends on the encounter that you will have and the impression you want to make. Today Dap met artists and designers such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West at the Fashion Weeks to discuss with them the value of the revolutionary style.
Michele Di Stefano