Dapper Dan is one of the most critical unsung figures in Hip Hop fashion and culture. The legendary designer was an outlaw with his creations, deliberately taking designs of luxury brands such as Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton and intertwining them with his clothing to create a line of apparel that would define Hip Hop fashion in the late ’80s.
Before Fendi’s legal team and then-U.S. Attorney Sonia Sotomayor ran his store out of business in 1992, Dapper Dan brought a whole new era of fashion and excellence to Harlem, New York. He got help from some of the biggest names in Hip Hop, such as LL COOL J, Eric B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa and more, who visited his boutique and brought fanfare to Harlem.
Everyone was coming to his shop looking for the custom all-over print design created by the man himself, and that’s the same essence that drives his latest collaboration with Pepsi. For the start of the new NFL season, Dapper Dan and Pepsi teamed up for an exclusive capsule collection celebrating the act of watching all the gridiron games from home. The collaboration comes with a hoodie, a bucket hat, and a lounger, all designed with Dapper Dan’s trademark style.
Dapper Dan rarely does collaborations, so for someone or a company to work with him, there has to be a deeper meaning involved. As he tells HipHopDX, he wasn’t looking to work with Pepsi. The real question is what makes Pepsi and all these other brands want to work with him.
“That’s the part we need to be clear on,” Dapper Dan told me in the middle of the waiting area of his atelier. “Because I stand on this corner, Mark, and I’m here in Harlem as a magnet to bring people like Pepsi, and Gucci here, because this is what I saw growing up. I saw powerful people come here.”
Between the 1940s and the 1960s, Harlem was a melting pot of Black culture frequently visited by some of the most influential people in the city. That vibe was amplified in the ’80s when Hip Hop emerged onto the scene and became one of the biggest new movements in the world. For Dan, utilizing the newfound interest in his life and career and teaming up with these new faces will do wonders for Harlem and Black culture.
“This goes all the way back,” Dapper Dan said. “I saw all these celebrities, all these companies, and they had to come here to Harlem because this is the best place to get their brand out. So I’m trying to bring that back. I’m trying to make it possible so Harlem can see what I saw.”
Dapper Dan MCM and Louis Vuitton matching outfits from the 1980s. Matching Wallabees on their feet. pic.twitter.com/eTGD6Cvi4L
— Detroit Griot (@JustCallmeBHunt) November 8, 2017
Dapper Dan saw his popularity boost around the same time Hip Hop exploded in the ’80s. Hip Hop fashion was beginning to inject itself into pop culture, and Dapper Dan was already prepared for the cultural wave thanks to his days studying Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others making statements with their outfits.
By 1985, Dapper Dan was embedded in Hip Hop culture, serving as the most in-demand clothier in the game. He was like a producer in how he took an existing product and revitalized its interest in the market through an innovative way of design. Dapper Dan did more than renew interest in luxury brands — he paved the way for a generation to embrace them.
Today, mainstream Hip Hop and luxury brands go hand-in-hand. Rappers are always looking to outdo each other on red carpets, and some of these artists can’t spit a verse without mentioning a luxury brand such as Dior, Prada or Balenciaga. Dapper Dan created what Hip Hop fans today call drip — and he’s fully aware of it.
Dapper Dan is a designer from Harlem who is the original auteur of hip hop fashion culture. Salt n Pepa, Mike Tyson, Bobbi Brown were among the clientele who came for Dap’s unique custom fits from fake rolls of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi & MCM.#BlackExcellence @DapperDanHarlem pic.twitter.com/Ae5drMDwWr
— VFILES (@VFILES) June 8, 2020
Dapper Dan doesn’t mind these rappers following in his footsteps, either, so long as they keep the message alive in their music. Hip Hop was one of the most prominent forms of expression in the ’80s, and somewhere down the line, money got in the way and turned the culture into a billion-dollar industry. If you ask Dapper Dan what he likes most about Hip Hop fashion these days, he’ll tell you it’s probably what he hates the most.
“What I like about it, is it reflects individuality,” Dapper Dan said while adjusting his thick black Gucci frames. “What I hate about it is that individuality has a dark side and a light side. That’s the same way I feel about rap because it has a light side and a dark side, but it is growing. The more social content it has, the better I feel about it, to address it.”
He continued, “Growing up, I didn’t feel like singing about love all the time, guy gets the girl love and I didn’t like that. Come on man. Guy get the girl music all the time, but you get some Marvin Gaye ‘What’s Going On,’ all that social positive stuff. Sometimes it takes a catalyst for change.”
Dapper Dan has plans to bring even more to Harlem through various forms of collaborations he won’t reveal just yet. One thing is for sure, though, people will want a ticket for what’s about to come to Harlem.