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Dapper Dan: a tale of Style and Street Credilibity.


Dapper took his inspiration from the black community in Harlem: young men who aspired to wear fancy, high-fashion clothes but obviously could not afford them. So Dan, he started designing logos such as LV, YSL, Gucci, Chanel with the aim of introducing a 'reinterpretation of luxury' even in the poorest neighbourhoods of NY.

Harlem, the born of 80s and Luxury Streetwear.

It’s a late afternoon in the 80s and somewhere in 125th street in Harlem, the radio plays Run D.M.C. Without knowing it, this is the stage where Dapper Dan will cross a whole generation’s fashion boundaries.

This famous designer joins Gucci for a spectacular return staying in line with ‘luxury streetwear‘, a fashion trend that Dapper started 25 years ago and is especially meaningful today as it is now part of our culture.

Dapper dreamt of dressing in haute couture someday, but not being able to afford brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Halston or Chanel, he used similar logos and patterns to finally create his version of how these brands’ designs would look like on the streets of his black community, streets that were ultimately his inspiration.

This was also the time when the hip hop subculture grew and became a culture. A real lifestyle that pursued gold, fancy clothes and fashion, as everyone wished to get out of the ghetto and achieve success (Fresh Dressed, 2015). Harlem’s fashion reflected a wealthy community even though it wasn’t, and this is exactly what Dapper Dan mirrored in his creations.

The hip hop culture was proudly represented with bold and eccentric tailored clothes, and that is exactly how Dapper Dan dressed the 80s NY’s black community.

Kanye West once said, “Being fresh is more important than having money”, and that is why many would steal or even kill for a pair of Jordan sneakers, a Louis Vuitton bag or the latest jacket from Ralph Lauren.

The aesthetics of extravagance were everywhere, from the biggest Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren‘s marketing campaigns to the most important record labels that brought to the public eye artists like 2 Pac, Biggie and Snoop Dog.

This is also how many urban clothes designers emerged and were advocates of freedom of expression and bid for a fashion that everyone could reach, a fashion for all.

Dapper Dan portrayed his favourite high-fashion influences and all the fashion systems trends in his designs and achieved a signature style. He used many textures like leather, fur, sumptuous prints and different colours, creating exclusive custom-tailored clothes that spoke the language of his community and gave it exactly what it was looking for.

He also carved logos on sneakers, t-shirts and other clothes, using different materials. Dapper sometimes even used car upholstery and everything that he could find suitable for customising his creations.

He finally opened a store called ‘Dapper Dan’s Greatest Creations’, a favourite among Harlem’s people, gangsters and even rappers like Public Enemy and Salt-N-Pepa, or crews that wished to show off his ‘freshly looks’ and a common identity.

The store became the realm of luxury urban fashion and was opened 24/7 for 7 years, granting Dapper the nickname ‘the hip hop tailor of Harlem’.

But in 1992, some giants like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi sued him for plagiarism. The logos that he had used without copyrights and had given him a name in the fashion industry were now back for him, taking everything he had, as he was accused of stealing the brands’ identity.

25 years later in a very improbable turn of events, Gucci signed him for its latest autumn-winter Men’s Tailoring campaign and a recent capsule collection that is now on sale, and not only that, as Alessandro Michele Gucci’s creative director of Gucci paid tribute to the designer in the Cruise 2018 runway by revising Dapper’s fur coat with oversized sleeves with the GG anagram instead of the LV from Dapper’s original design.

It caused a stir as many people accused him of forgery, but it was really to praise a name that spoke about self-expression and the street culture.

Michele will also finance the reopening of Dapper Dan’s famous workshop so that haute couture parody brands and the textile appropriation that generated luxury fashion gets to grow and meet today’s streetwear.

And this is how the image of the rap culture in the streets of New York has set the fashion system on fire, as we would never imagine a brand like Marc Jacobs taking gold chains on stage or the iconic Kangol hat.

It doesn’t matter how much has streetwear changed in the past 25 years, because fashion’s famous villain is back to breaking boundaries once again. Stay tuned!

WORDS: Manuela Palma



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