Dapper Dan: The “Knock-Off” King

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The unique and significant style that rap and hip hop culture carries with it did not happen or
become popular in mainstream fashion by accident. On the contrary, it came from a very
specific place, created by a very specific person. Despite its tumultuous past, the style that rap
culture holds and is famous for, and the proper knock-off would not be a thing without the
struggles and triumphs of a certain Daniel Day, or better known as Dapper Dan.
Harlem born and raised, Day did not grow up in the light of luxury. Day was often caught
shoplifting and breaking into clothing and jewelry shops, and even got caught up in gang
activities ang gambling; this latter activity alone earned him the name of Dapper Dan, the name
he is known and celebrated by today, as he was a big winner in craps on the street. As many
rowdy teenagers do, however, Dapper Dan grew up, went on to finish high school, and enroll in
a program sponsored by Columbia University and the Urban League, a program that certainly
opened doors for Dapper Dan; it allowed him to travel to Africa for the first time, and after going
once, Dapper Dan returned in 1974 with a vision. He met with tailors and seamstresses and
after making his thoughts reality through these artisans, with Africa’s influence, he decided he
wanted to open a clothing store. In 1982, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, a 24/7 fashion scene, was
born.
Although Day’s influence has spanned generations, his 24/7 emporium energy originally
appealed and sold to drug dealers and hustlers. What began as Day simply wanting to flip
clothing turned into him wanting to also sell fur, but because he was Black, very few furriers
would sell to him, and thus this business venture proved challenging for Day. Despite it all, Day
was slowly and quietly becoming one of the more notable and perhaps controversial figures in
cultural and fashion history, because, low and behold, Day broke into the fur business, as well.
Despite Day making his fur venture a reality, the fashion world was still cruel to Black people.
So, because he was not able to make deals with the companies who supplied what he wanted
to sell, he created what he wanted to sell himself. Day visited Gucci stores, took their garment
bags, and fashioned the designer logos from the bags themselves on pieces and materials
bought for pennies from warehouse sales. Most importantly, his pieces were put together
almost entirely by Aftican tailors. Despite using a singular logo of one brand, Day created
entirely new designs, and did not refashion old or already seen designs, creating a whole new
genre and vibe of clothing, geared toward the celebration of Black people and culture.
Many would think that Day’s designs would be less than his “original” rivals, such as Gucci,
Louis Vuitton, or MCM, to name a few, however, the time and work and effort put into his pieces
put forth prices that were nothing to sneer at. And, while Day designed custom pieces and
combinations for Harlem’s local dealers and clientele, when these customers travelled, photos
of them made their way around the world, and thus, so did the news and awareness of Day’s

designs and stores. Not long after, athletes like Walter Berry and Mark Jackson as well as Mike
Tyson were in Day’s looks, and following the athletes came the musicians; notably Salt-N-Pepa
and Bobby Brown to KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Eric B & Rakim were all interested in
customs designed by the Dapper Dan. In addition to Day’s designs gaining popularity alone
from celebrities wearing them, the clothing’s wackiness and outward difference from anything
else ever before made them something to watch and take note of. Day paved the way for the
still-current trend of “logo mania,” a monumental marriage between logos and the prestige that
comes along with them, and the growing prestige as the amount of logos grows, at that.
Day’s designs were different also in the way that they were made a bit larger, and they were
also reversible, often revealing a whole other set of logos on the inside. These baggy, “hood
glamorous” cuts caught on for a generation of Black-owned brands like Sean John, and FUBU,
notably.
Despite his early success, Day ran into issues when many lawsuits against him arose due to his
usage of many luxury brand logos. Specifically, in 1992, Fendi raided his boutique, forcing
Dapper Dan to close his doors. From that moment, Dapper Dan, and his store and influence
were more or less quiet. But, close to 20 years later, Dapper Dan was back, and in the
strangest way: Gucci’s 2017 resort show seemed to “knock off” a Dapper Dan design; a balloon-
sleeved mink bomber similar to Dapper Dan’s piece with the Louis Vuitton logo was featured,
except for it had the Gucci logo instead. As voices began to buzz, before anyone could truly
accuse Gucci of knocking off the king of logomania, Gucci and Dapper Dan collaborated on a
capsule collection; almost relaunching logomania, but in mainstream media and fashion. And,
in 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci opened an invite-only atelier in Harlem, bringing his life’s work
and inspirations full circle.
Dapper Dan, although perhaps less conventional than other designers, screamed individuality
and industriousness. Dapper Dan’s style and creativity is incredible, and specifically notable in
the fact that as a Black man and a Black man im fashion, instead of going with the grain,
Dapper Dan did what he knew and did not look back; creating both pieces and a legacy that will
forever be unparalleled. Emily G

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