In this week's post on Fashion Fridays With Joanna, we will be taking a look at the life of none other than Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan. Daniel’s store, Dapper Dan's Boutique, operated from 1982 through 1992 and is most associated with introducing high fashion to the hip-hop world. Daniel went from elevating fashion in the Black community to working and becoming an influential style icon.
Daniel Day was born in Harlem, New York in 1944. He grew up with three brothers and three sisters on 129th and Lexington Avenue. Robert, his dad, was a civil servant and his mother, Lily, a homemaker. His family was a part of the lower class. The neighborhood he was raised in was very rough. It was known for violence, drugs, and a lot of harsh living situations. Throughout Dapper’s life he learned different ways to make money. By age 13, he was a skilled gambler. He has been very open about having to steal and sell drugs. Being from the neighborhood that he was from, it's not far-fetched to be involved in these types of activities, especially at a young age. In an article with Vogue, he said, “I was born and raised in the poorest section of Harlem. My first experience was with crime. I became a professional gambler, and to be a professional gambler, you have to be a professional conman.” Daniel mentioned in an interview with The New York Times that he gained the name Dapper Dan from his days of being a professional gambler. In the article, he goes on to say, “The name was a combination of two things. I was the flyest young guy in my neighborhood. But there was also an older guy, a gambler, and his name was Dapper Dan. When I started beating this guy in the crap games, he said, ‘You are the new Dapper Dan.’ He was also a really great tenor saxophonist. He told me: ‘Just call me Tenor Man Dan. Now, you’re Dapper Dan.’” Daniel's dream was to actually become a writer and he even worked in journalism for a bit for a Harlem newspaper called Forty Acres and a Mule in the ’60s. In 1968 Daniel was chosen by the Columbia University-Urban League program to travel with them as a student on a tour in Africa which they returned from in 1974. In an interview with The New York Times, he expresses that that trip changed his life.
Source CBS News
After Daniel’s return to Harlem he was back to finding creative ways to make money. He began selling shoplifted items out of the back of his car. He turned an illegal hustle into a legitimate business when he opened his boutique. Dapper Dan's Boutique opened in 1982 and was located on 125th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. In the ’80s, he had enough capital to get serious about fur and leather, but many would not sell to him because he was Black and the location. Daniel was very observant of what people in his community found fashionable and, at that time, uncommon designer items were the trend. When he noticed that he could create costume pieces, he hired a group of tailors, including Africans he had met in Midtown, family members, and a friend from the Nation of Islam. From then on, his boutique was known for selling customized GUCCI, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and MCM clothing which he referred to as “knock up opposed to knock offs”. Day clothing was often referred to as streetwear which set him apart from his competitors. His main clientele were "hustlers and street people". His boutique was successful because not only could you get original costume pieces, but it offered his clients room to be comfortable and not fearful of being profiled as they shop for high-end brands. Around 1985, Dapper ventured into hip-hop fashion. One of his very first clients in the industry was, none other than, LL Cool J. From that very moment he became associated with hip-hop royalty. He also began working with boxers and athletes. Though his clientele was growing and his work was being noticed by people outside of just his city, his boutique was on the verge of being closed down; his illegal use of logos in his custom-made designs led to counterfeiting raids and litigation. In 1992, after legal action by Fendi and then-U.S. Attorney Sonia Sotomayor, Dapper Dan's was shut down for good. It is rumored that in conjunction to the lawsuits, he experienced an attempted kidnapping that sent him to the hospital with a gunshot wound, which is what eventually led him to shut down his boutique. Though his designs were everywhere for years, Daniel was not respected in the fashion world. That did not stop his love for what he did as he continued working underground and still styling celebrities such as Floyd Mayweather. This continued on for years until 2017. Dapper’s work, though it never slowed down, became mainstream. In mid-2017, in a homage to Dapper Dan, Gucci's creative director Alessandro Michele designed a jacket based on a well-known Dapper Dan design for Diane Dixon in 1989. This caused an uproar because many believed that Gucci had stolen the Dapper Dan design, especially due to Gucci not stating it to be a homage until after they drew criticism. He gained a lot of opportunities with his mainstream fame, with the support of Michele and Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri; Day and the Italian brand partnered for a line of menswear. His success streak didn't stop there. In 2018, Day opened a new shop on Lenox Avenue in partnership with Gucci, Dapper Dan of Harlem, the first luxury house fashion store in Harlem. In an interview with Vogue he talks about his deal with Gucci and about his plans and aspirations. He said, "Gucci allowed for me to break Jim Crow barriers in fashion. So, now my real freedom is coming. This is going to be the biggest stage of my life. My plan is to try to work with young designers and show them how everything I did was connected to the culture and how to translate culture because that's the key to what I do."
BEING AN ICON
All in all, it's fair to say that Daniel, or as many would say, Dapper Dan, is an icon that brought luxury to the Black community and, not only did he bring it into the culture in the most unique way, but he was able to make his own table when he was unable to get a seat at the table in the fashion world. He soon earned the respect he deserved from those same people that shunned him. Daniel's story is a story of rags to riches. Even though he started off with a rough background and constantly seeing things around him that offered a negative influence and caused him to slip off track, he was able to find a way to put himself in the right track. He's not only a legend in Harlem, or even just New York, but he's a legend and an icon to people in and outside of the Black community. He once had his designs on the runway, but now he is walking those same runways. Dan is still working at the age of 76. He has eight children with seven women: William Long, Daniel Day Jr., Danique Day, Aisha Day, Danielle Day, Malik Day, Tiffany White, and Jelani Day who is the brand manager for his father.
“I went from selling clothes on a table on the sidewalks of Harlem, now I'm on my own giant billboard on a rooftop in Harlem. l went from having holes in my shoes as a child, now l wear Gucci loafers. l came from the poorest neighborhood in Harlem, now l have a brownstone in Harlem. l never had a desire to move away and be by the rich people, now they are moving by me. l always believed in me and I always believed in Harlem—and l thank GOD for that.”- Dapper Dan