More than any other major industry in the world today, fashion moves in cycles. Styles and trends that are old become new once again with the passage of time, and what’s considered cool one year can be damned to languish in mall chain-store obscurity the very next year until it completely collapses in on itself, and then inexplicably storms back to the forefront of cool yet again, aided by a timely celebrity co-sign or a fierce wave of nostalgia.
It certainly is an interesting time to be following fashion. If “less is more” was a saying most abided by a few years ago when monochromatic, low-key outfits were all the rage in the streets and on the runway, “more is more” would be the perfect way to describe the popular style of the past year-plus.
From excessive embroidery and prints to bright, loud colors and patterns to mis-matched outfits that inexplicably come together perfectly even though they make no sense from a sartorial standpoint, it’s all about who can do the most nowadays. New hot brands are popping up left and right with wild designs (and sometimes even wilder price points), and legendary fashion houses are switching up their strategy and paying attention to what’s going on in the streets and online like never before in an effort to keep up the pace.
One brand that’s managed to push the envelope forwards without losing any of their classic prestige is Gucci. Ever since Alessandro Michele took over the reins of the legendary Italian fashion house in January of 2015, his unique, loud, maximalist look that’s inspired by everything from 60’s sci-fi films to antique textiles has stormed to the forefront of cool, and brands from around the world, both of the street and high fashion variety have been doing their best impersonations ever since.
However, as influential as he may be in today’s world, Alessandro Michele was not the first person to take high-end goods and put his own unique touch on them. Far from it, in fact. The distinction of “first” belongs to Harlem’s Daniel Day, better known to most as Dapper Dan, one of the OG’s of high-end clothing customization.
From 1982-1992, Dapper Dan ran what was undoubtedly the dopest store in the world … even if the traditional fashion world at large didn’t know about it. Based in Harlem, Dan’s store (called Dapper Dan’s) was open 24 hours, and catered to celebrities, athletes, musicians, drug dealers, and fashionistas who came to get 1 of 1 outfits and accessories, hand-made and tailored by Dan himself.
Dapper Dan wasn’t the head of a high-fashion house … but he might as well have been with what he did to Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and MCM clothes. Dan would take leather, suede, and other fine materials from those high-end pieces, and use those raw materials to make custom gear for his clients. It was essentially a high-end authentic bootlegging operation, held together by Dan’s keen sense of style, undeniable flair, and unique take on what a high fashion house’s goods could become and do. Everyone from Mike Tyson to Puff Daddy (he wasn’t Diddy back then) to Eric B and Rakim (they wore Dan’s clothing on the cover of their 1987 classic Paid In Full) could be spotted in Dapper Dan’s clothes, and his spot became a go-to shop for anyone in New York and beyond who was in the know and had money to spend.
If Dapper Dan had came of age in the Internet era, he would undoubtedly be a worldwide sensation due to his unique aesthetic and colorful personality (and his plethora of celebrity co-signs), but unfortunately he had to close down his shop in 1992 as fierce litigation from luxury brands forced him out of business. Ever since Dan’s shop closed its doors, he’s worked from the shadows, designing custom garments for the likes of Floyd Mayweather, A$AP Ferg and other athletes/celebrities.
Now, 25 years later, as high-fashion brands make their best effort to grab the attention of a unique, colorful, fashion-hungry, hip-hop obsessed generation they’ve turned back to the OG himself, bringing both the unique designs and the legendary designer back to the forefront of cool.
Dan’s return to the limelight began when the internet was sent into an uproar this May after a Gucci jacket that was a clear rip (a knockoff of a knockoff, if you will, pictured above on the left) of a custom Louis Vuitton piece made by Dapper Dan for Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter Diane Dixon back in 1989 (pictured on the right) was sent down the runway at Gucci’s Cruise Collection show in Florence. While responding to the frenzy the jacket created, Gucci formally acknowledged for the first time ever that the jacket was indeed inspired by Dan’s designs.
The fact that Dan’s work was officially recognized by the legendary brand this past spring was very important. High-fashion houses have really never been known to give proper credit to the streets like they should … but the acknowledgement became even more impactful this fall after Gucci announced that they would be officially collaborating with the Harlem legend on a permanent shop 25 years after his original, groundbreaking business was shut down for copyright infringement, Dan would be able to re-open, and this time the luxury material he used to “pirate” will be supplied to him by Gucci.
Although some old heads may bemoan how the Internet democracizes fashion and makes it accessible to the masses (in 2017 fashion is less classist than it has ever been) few would argue that Dapper Dan’s work being brought to a wider audience is a bad thing. The Harlem legend’s sauce has been stolen by the very same brands that ran him out of business for copyright infringement over the last two decades without any proper credit for influencing their designs and aesthetic … and now he’s on a level playing field and can create as he sees fit, with the backing, both financial and creative, of one of the most iconic fashion houses of all time.
The new Dapper Dan/Gucci shop will open by the end of the year, and Gucci will also release a capsule collection fronted by a lookbook shot in Harlem and prominently featuring Dan himself sometime next spring.
At the end of the day, everything came full circle, just as it always does. Fashion is a strange industry, isn’t it?