Dapper Dan Knows New York Style

From dressing early hip-hop icons to working with Gucci on a joint venture, the Harlem clothier has seen his home city evolve alongside him, and he loves the vibrant diversity that has remained through it all.
Reading time 4 minutes

Photography by Jeiroh

Dapper Dan is second to none when it comes to designing unforgettable looks for New York’s hip-hop scene. The clothier, born Daniel Day, is a lifelong Harlem native, having spent his formative years on 129th and Lexington alongside his civil servant father, a stay-at-home mother, and six siblings. By 13, he mastered gambling, a skill that would help him in his later sartorial endeavors, and in his young adulthood, he dabbled in newspapers by working for Harlem’s Forty Acres and a Mule. Ever curious, Day would briefly leave New York between 1968-1974 in order to tour Africa with Columbia University and the Urban League, but upon his return, he would find his true calling in Harlem fashion.

Dapper Dan’s clothing business was born out of hustle, as he faced racial prejudice when companies refused to sell him the materials he needed. This inspired him to figure out design from scratch, creating textiles that closely resembled their inaccessible counterparts and later innovating through concepts like screen-printed leather and designer car interiors. When he finally opened his eponymous boutique in 1982, early hip-hop culture was well on the rise, and prominent rappers, hustlers, and athletes fell in love with his signature blend of rat pack inspiration, streetwear cool, and luxury logos from brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Fendi. Everyone from LL Cool J to Salt ‘N Pepa to runner Diane Dixon rocked Dapper Dan’s designs, helping to cement his place as a sartorial icon in New York’s shifting cultural scene.

Legal action from Fendi and now-Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor shut his boutique down in 1992, but the designer would reenter the spotlight a quarter-century later. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele showed a balloon-sleeved mink jacket in his cruise collection that looked almost exactly like one of Dapper Dan’s creations, sparking controversy because the latter knew nothing about it. In a way, his work had come full circle after he built a brand on reproduced logos, but no one could shake the sour implications of a major house copying an independent black designer without proper credit or compensation. Luckily, this story ended fairly well, as Dapper Dan and Gucci started a new boutique in Harlem after collaborating on a menswear collection. The appointment-only atelier has a luxe feel, with nostalgic framed photos on the wall and a sunlight-filled sitting room for entourages, and Dapper Dan warmly greets each customer to help people of color feel at home in the space, staying true to his inclusive roots.

Pairing nicely with his brand principles, the fashion legend continues to have a genuine passion for the vibrant diversity and iconic history of New York. He values the numerous cultures he can experience simply by venturing a few blocks from his brownstone, he loves watching Central Park views change with the seasons, and his favorite New Yorker is Arturo Schomberg, who dedicated himself to collecting African history materials that he would donate to his namesake library. But though Dapper Dan values New York’s past and all he has experienced, he is far from mourning a bygone golden age, instead treasuring the spirit of adaptability and nonconformity that still permeates the streets. This attitude couldn’t be more relevant in another era of turbulent social change, and it helps to show why the clothier’s influence has transcended his initial moment of fame. Whether Dapper Dan keeps collaborating with Gucci or has another idea up his sleeve, he undeniably remains an exciting one to watch.

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Hair: Carolyn Riley @ De Facto Inc using Kerastase

Makeup: Andie Markoe-Byrne @ Bryan Bantry using Chanel

Photo Director: Jennifer Rosenblum 

Production Assistant: Mina Erkli 

Location: Root Studios

Catering: Red Hook Catering

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