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A Timeline of Hip-Hop Style Icon Dapper Dan

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October 17, 2018

French Montana’s newly released music video “No Stylist” had a number of surprise cameos. Chief among them was Dapper Dan—a.k.a. Daniel Day, the Harlem couturier and original auteur of streetstyle—who appeared alongside A$AP Rocky and influencer Luka Sabbat. Despite the recent co-sign, the designer remains most notable for his "knockups"—a term he coined to distinguish his work from knockoffs or rips-offs—that upended the landscape of hip-hop fashion.


Unlike the counterfeit market that thrives on identical and cheaper versions of high-end luxury collections, Day’s work reimagined existing designs by the likes of Louis Vuitton and Fendi, with a quintessential streetwear aesthetic. Although his bespoke garments were stamped by designer logos, they were always redesigned to include signature Dapper Dan details such as puffed sleeves or expensive fur.


Inspired by hip-hop culture and the way gangsters dressed, his creations attracted the best of both worlds—from the likes of Salt-N-Pepa and Eric B to underworld kingpins—who also happened to be among the only few that could afford his ultra-luxe designs and prices.

Under mounting pressure from lawsuits and copyright claims, Day closed shop in 1992, which marked the end of his once flourishing business.

It was a surprise Gucci collection in 2017 that brought the one-time fashion outlaw back into the spotlight, and today he runs Harlem’s first luxury store in partnership with the brand. His legacy is also being immortalized in form of a book and a film adaptation. But as the designer’s story heads to the silver screen, we take stock of his exhilarating journey to success that solidified his status as Harlem’s most famous couturier.

1982: Opens his first boutique

After a short stint selling shoplifted items out of his car, Day opened his first store on 125th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue in New York. The store was open 24/7 and saw a mix of hustlers and locals as clients.

The store launch coincided with a city-wide crack cocaine epidemic and the rise of hip-hop music, which only fueled his cool rooster of customers that included LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Bobby Brown and Eric B & Rakim alongside drug lords such as Alpo Martinez.

Influenced by the Rat Pack's Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr, his designs gained prominence for appropriating logos from high-end luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi that were later redesigned into original Dapper Dan garments from high-end bootlegged fabric.  

As he eschewed standard luxury designing practices for his own, he also became illustrious for inventing a new process for printing onto leather, which he later used to design luxury car interiors.

1988: Visit from Mike Tyson

Although Day quickly became a permanent fixture in the gangster and hip-hop realm, it was a 5 a.m. visit from heavyweight champion Mike Tyson that eventually launched him into mainstream stardom.

 

In a much publicized and somewhat comic brawl outside Day’s Harlem store with his then-sworn boxing rival Mitch Green, Tyson was photographed wearing a “fake” Fendi jacket. While his store was routinely raided by U.S. marshals looking for supplies, the press generated by this incident resulted in a number of lawsuits. Most damaging of all came from Fendi, which eventually led to the unceremonious closure of his business in 1992.

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1999: Starts designing for Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Following the cessation of his Harlem store, Day was unsurprisingly shunned from mainstream fashion. Soon after, he began to create custom-made designs for a roster of private clients. Chief and most instrumental among them was producer and DJ Eric B, who introduced the designer to Floyd Mayweather Jr. While Mayweather himself wasn’t so established in the ring back then, he remained a loyal client of Day. He eventually ended up creating Mayweather’s entire wardrobe along with ringwear. Today, as one of the world’s richest sportsmen, Mayweather continues to be Day’s biggest private client.

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2001–2002: Referenced in 'Paid in Full'

Although still shunned by major luxury brands, he continued to flourish as an icon in the hip-hop scene. Aside from being immortalized in Jay-Z’s 2001 hit “U Don’t Know,” wherein the singer famously rapped, “Got a G on my chest/I don't need Dapper Dan,” Day became an important point of reference in the 2002 crime film Paid in Full. The film charted the rise of Harlem drug dealer and one of Day’s most notorious gangster clients, Alpo Martinez.

2016: Appearance in 'Street Level Hero'

Weeks before the premiere of Netflix original series Luke Cage came Street Level Hero, a social video series that discussed the aforementioned show, famously set in Harlem. Dan appeared alongside Mike Colter, A$AP Ferg and Method Man providing commentary in a series that aimed to “blend fiction with history by taking audiences behind the curtain on the themes that give the show its street-level authenticity and cultural relevance."

2017: Gucci Collaboration

Perhaps the most pivotal moment that thrust the designer back into the spotlight came unexpectedly when Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, presented a jacket inspired by Day’s designs for his Resort 2018 collection.

While the event was accosted with controversy for supposedly not giving Day due credit for his original work, it eventually led to the two designers collaborating for a capsule collection released earlier this year.

But the more remarkable and grandiose moment came when Day and Gucci partnered to open Harlem’s first luxury fashion store on Lenox Avenue earlier in January. The appointment-only boutique is currently housed in a three-story space with a special VIP section for the likes of Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

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2018: Cameo in French Montana/Drake music video

French Montana and Drake’s 2018 single “No Stylist” alludes to a number of fashion icons: Particularly, Dapper Dan. In the days leading up the official release of the video, French Montana dropped a teaser featuring Day. This was followed by the official premier of the much-anticipated video, where Day makes a surprise cameo after a conveyor belt of luxury labels are mentioned, from Chanel to Saint Laurent. In doing so, Montana pays homage to “hip-hop legends and fashion pioneers.”

2019: Memoir and Biopic

Earlier this year, Sony announced plans to develop a biopic based on Dan's upcoming memoir (due out in 2019 from Random House). The film is being adapted by Neighbors director Jerrod Carmichael and has been described as a “high-stakes coming-of-age story,” which will map the rise of the Harlem designer from a meek shoplifter to hip-hop style icon and couturier.