From his eponymous store on E 125th in Harlem, Dapper Dan (real name Daniel Day) presided over a remarkable fashion emporium in the 80s and 90s. His uptown clientele was a heady mix of hustlers, street cats and hip hop royalty, all of whom shared a mutual love of what Dap himself called a ‘macho type of ethnic ghetto clothing’. That’s Harlem shorthand for streetified-luxury, a glorious melange of status symbols such as mink, ostrich, crocodile and python married with his own trademark ‘reappropriatons’ of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi yardage.
LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Run DMC, Fat Boys and Public Enemy publicly repped Dapper Dan hard and his fame quickly spread beyond the local hood. Peep Eric B and Rakim’s Follow the Leader and Paid in Full for classic Dapper Dan outfits in full effect. Mike Tyson famously punched out opponent Mitch Green in front of the store whilst on his way to pick up the classic ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ jacket. The place became notorious.
Jackets, bags, hats, two-tone jumpsuits with all-over prints – there was nothing Dapper Dan wouldn’t cover in acres of hand-printed and embossed leather. Gucci seat covers, LV-inspired upholstery and a famous convertible lid for Rakim’s Jeep showed Dap’s talent for entreprenurial diversification. Another iconic ensemble was a Louis Vuitton jacket with huge gold Mercedes badges. Less well known were the sneakers that matched his jackets, but shoes were definitely on the menu at Dapper Dan’s. The Fat Boys for example repped Nike Air Force 1s with Gucci Swooshes on the cover of their long player Crushin’. Nearly everything was a one-off designed for an individual, making Dapper Dan one of the OG customisers.
As his fame and fortune grew, the European fashion houses swooped. Infuriated by the very public knock-off of their trademarks and inflamed by their utter rejection of black, urban culture, they took legal action against Dap and he went underground.