Dapper Dan was a hustler who became a fashion legend in the 1980's for making bespoke garments for figures like Mike Tyson and drug kingpins like Alberto “Alpo” Martinez. Born in the 50s in Harlem, New York, Daniel Day opened a shop under his own name in 1983, at 43 East 125th Street, where he made furs and always sold them cheaper than the market price. For ten years, the 24-hour store was the go-to marketplace for flash Harlem style, a way of dressing that had its very own ecosystem.
“Harlem likes a certain extravagance,” Day told Vice in 2014. “The mainstay are items made out of silk, linen, leather, exotic skins, minks and furs. Those fineries determine your status. The only variation you’ll find is among the young people for a period in their life, and as they graduate, they go right into that.”
Dapper Dan went on to dress everyone from Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr to LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa, and archive photos of his work – which tend to focus on his use of luxury design-house logos and his custom designs for rap and sports stars – still make waves in the fashion industry. Remember his puff-sleeved Vuitton monogram creation for American track and field star Diane Dixon?
Of the power of the brand logo, Day told The Cut in 2015, "I think the first [logo] that I became aware of was Christian Dior, because the Christian Dior hat was popular. That was the big one; the hat and the umbrella. And after that, I remember Pierre Cardin, his suits ... Logos signify status, and money, which go hand in hand. The thing is, you can have the status but nobody will know you don’t have the money. So that’s what gives it such an impact in your look."
The most in-demand logos amongst his clients, Day says: "Each had their period, but Louis [Vuitton] stayed with it. Louis never wavered; it always had that impact. Gucci had a greater impact because there was so much more you could do with it. Louis just had the basic print ... You had people that didn’t want the letters all over. So they could have the [Gucci] piping — the red and green, and that’s the signal right there. So, that was powerful."
As noted by Vice, his design tactics did not always go over well. “His clothes were emblazoned with the monograms of European fashion houses at a time when those companies—Gucci, Louis Vuitton—were mainly producing leather goods and accessories.” Eventually, the fashion houses caught on and Dan's boutique was being regularly raided by U.S. marshals, who seized equipment and supplies.
At the same time, most of the labels whose logos he was ripping off began taking legal action (Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton all reportedly filed lawsuits against Day), and he was forced to shut up shop in 1992. He may have been illegally incorporating other brands' intellectual property into his designs, but Day, who now works with private clients across the U.S., maintains: “I didn’t do knock-offs. I did knock-ups!” He further noted, "I never used or designed anything that [the luxury houses] would think of — I was too cutting-edge for that."
As Day sees it, he was filling a gap, because big luxury brands were not working this form of fly-guy logomania on their own clothes. Indeed, Louis Vuitton was not selling ready-to-wear at all at the time. And even though his boutique was short-lived, "the flashy leather and fur sportswear he crafted for the black elite was way ahead of its time and became a pivotal influence on men’s fashion and the aesthetics of hip-hop culture."