He was selling custom-made clothing to Hip Hop’s finest for thousands of dollars a piece, fashioned from rolls of fake Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi prints imported from Korea out of his Harlem boutique during the 1980s. His name is Dapper Dan and before the likes of Kanye West and Rihanna were doing it, this guy 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, Dapper Dan’s client 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 on 125th street which stayed open all night and day for 8 years.
Dapper Dan (left) at his boutique’s storefront in 1983
In 1988, two of Dapper Dan’s clients, boxers Mike Tyson and Mitch Green crossed paths upon entering and leaving the Harlem boutique at 5AM in the morning. The encounter resulted in an almighty scuffle 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 125th street boutique, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi, all sued him.
A special creation for Mike Tyson back in 1986.
Salt-N-Pepa album cover in 1988, featuring Dapper Dan creations
While it’s no surprise that the designer brands objected to Dapper Dan’s use of their logos during the uprising of Harlem’s crack era, it’s still worth recognising that what Dapper Dan did was a totally original re-imagination of style. It wasn’t available to them, so they made it their own– not necessarily in an attempt to undermine the brand.
Love it or hate it, it’s well-worth a second look from anybody interested in a crossroads of aesthetics, class and culture.
Above: Olympic gold and silver medalist, Diane Dixon. Below: A pair of Dapper Dan sneakers that recently sold at auction.
Even though Dapper Dan’s fashions took a hiatus from popular style in the 90s, his legacy lives on and some archival pieces have recently been selling for impressive amounts at auctions and novelty sales.
And it would seem his designs have come full circle as Gucci just sent a very closely inspired coat down the runway for their Resort 2017 collection. Remember they sued him in the 80s! What do they say again? Something about “good artists copy, great artists steal”?!
Above: Bobby Brown in 1988, in Dapper Dan’s Gucci suit, Below: Dan with LL Cool J
Check out this rare interview Dapper Dan did late last year with Life + Time, his first in 20 years:
All images via Dapper Dan