Gazing down from a billboard overlooking 125th Street (aka Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in Harlem, “Dapper Dan”—born Daniel Day—appears every bit what his longtime moniker suggests. Adjusting the lapel of his impeccably tailored suit, he looks like a man who has arrived—though he never left the New York neighborhood he called home. His website, Dapper Dan, reads:
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. I went from having holes in my shoes as a child, now I wear @gucci loafers. I came from the poorest neighborhood in Harlem, now I have a brownstone in Harlem. I never had a desire to move away and be by the rich people, now they are moving by me. I always believed in me and I always believed in Harlem—and I thank GOD for that.
Indeed, 25 years after the culture-defining couturier was forced to close the doors of his legendary Dapper Dan’s Boutique—beloved by the athletes and musicians he dressed in custom-made designs from counterfeit prints—the original hip-hop renegade (sorry, Yeezy) is back in business. This time, with the full support of Gucci.
Last week, they opened the doors of a four-story Harlem brownstone atelier, where the famed designer will now have (perfectly legal) access to Gucci’s fabrics and materials to resume creating his couture specialties—by appointment, of course.
The move comes after what can only be called a case of “when appropriation goes right.” After being called out for imitating the O.G. appropriator’s design for his Resort 2018 collection, Gucci designer Alessandro Michele made it right; not only crediting Dapper Dan as his inspiration, but putting the Gucci name, pedigree and funding behind him in a full collaboration so that Dapper Dan may continue to inspire for years to come.
But if the fashion world considers this a tale of redemption, no doubt old-heads in Harlem consider it reparations, in the form of the restoration of a hometown hero to his rightful place. After all, Dapper Dan never stopped being the height of fashion to us.