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How Dapper Dan became the world’s most influential Black designer

Dapper Dan (Photo by A.R. Shaw for Steed Media)

Dapper Dan can be considered the godfather of hip-hop fashion. During the rise of hip-hop and rap during the 1980s, Dan became the go-to designer for top rappers at the time such as LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, and Big Daddy Kane. His signature style of combining streetwear with high-end name brands such as Gucci and Fendi allowed Dan to create a new fashion movement in Harlem, New York.

However, Dan was forced to close his Harlem-based factory and store in the 1990s after major brands threated to sue him for copyright infringement. But decades later, fans on social media called out Gucci for stealing one of Dan’s signature designs. Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, stole the idea directly from Dan for the brand’s 2018 Cruise collection.

The company would make amends by partnering with Dan shortly after the social media dust-up. Gucci and Dan opened an appointment-only uptown atelier for custom clothes.

Dapper Dan (Photo by A.R. Shaw for Steed Media)

But following the partnership, Gucci was forced to answer questions after the company showcased a design that looked like blackface. Some in the Black community called for a boycott of Gucci.

Dan recently spoke about the issue in a speech at the National Urban League Conference.

“When fashion brands appropriate the culture, there’s nobody inside to advise them that there’s going to be a mistake,” he said. “So how should we reflect on a mistake? Sometimes mistakes are responsible for getting us in rooms that we wouldn’t even be in. So we have to decide how we’re going to respond to mistakes. Because as cultural appropriation expands, we have to prepare ourselves with a mindset on how we want to deal with expectations.”

In order for urban culture to grow, Dan believes that evolution is imperative. Because once something becomes a commodity, it can lose its cool factor. He encourages urban youth to remain innovative in all of their endeavors.

“We find that everybody can cook soul food now,” Dan said while referencing how soul food used to only be prepared by Black people. “The reason everybody’s cooking soul food now is because soul food doesn’t change. So you have to look at what’s happening. We are only responsible for maybe 3 to 5 percent of the luxury brands’ bottom line. But what we are responsible for is that we have influence because everybody wants to be like us. We keep coming up with new culture, new music, new everything because we have been completely deprived of our cultural base. So that’s what happened. But now we have to learn how to take advantage of it. Because we only get a certain length of time.”