Dapper Dan expanding brand after being shut out of fashion industry 30 years ago

Dapper Dan plans a fashion renaissance after losing everything.

May 4, 2024, 6:01 AM

Harlem legend and fashion designer Daniel R. Day, better known as Dapper Dan, is a testament to resilience and determination. Despite being sued, blackballed and dismissed by top luxury fashion brands 30 years ago, he is now collaborating with them and forging a reputation as a tastemaker.

Dapper Dan, a 79-year-old fashion designer known as "the godfather of hip-hop fashion," is finally receiving recognition from the industry. His legendary Harlem boutique at 43 East 125th Street was forced to close due to lawsuits from high-end fashion houses. These houses accused Dapper Dan of using their logos without permission in his designs.

"I didn't do knock-offs. I did knock-ups," Dapper Dan told ABC News. "Knock-off is like people going to Canal [Street] and then looking for exact replicas. That's not what I did. I do what jazz musicians did."

PHOTO: Dapper Dan on making a new Harlem Renaissance.
Dapper Dan on making a new Harlem Renaissance.
ABC News

In the 1980s, Dapper Dan aimed to attract the wealthy and fashionable people within his community by offering his own twist on designer brands that stood out.

Dapper Dan realized he could make a lot of money by using luxury brand logos on his clothes. After going back to the books to learn about textile printing, Dapper Dan began to incorporate the logos of luxury fashion houses such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Gucci in his products. He would put his name on the tags, and soon word spread about his unique items.

The biggest entertainers came at all hours of the day, turning his shop into a 24-hour operation. Dapper Dan says he worked tirelessly, sleeping in the back of his store and never taking a day off.

His list of clients ranged from Harlem hustlers to famous personalities like Run DMC, Mike Tyson, Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J and Bobby Brown. He was not just a fashion designer, but many called him a cultural icon, credited with sowing the seeds of fashion in the hip-hop music genre.

As media attention grew, Fendi sued Day in 1992, claiming his use of their logo in his designs was trademark infringement. He lost the lawsuit, forcing him to close his store and go underground. During the '90s, he kept a low profile and his business became inactive.

He says the lawsuit left him with almost nothing and he found himself sewing in a basement.

In its Resort 2017 collection, under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, Gucci showcased a nearly identical version of a Dapper Dan coat from the 1980s that Olympic gold and silver medalist Diane Dixon wore.

PHOTO: Dapper Dan on making a new Harlem Renaissance.
Dapper Dan on making a new Harlem Renaissance.
ABC News

Gucci would refer to it as a tribute to Dapper Dan's unique designs. At the encouragement of Diane Dixon, Gucci's creative director at the time, Alessandro Michele, collaborated with Dapper Dan on a new men's clothing line and opened a new luxury store called "Dapper Dan of Harlem."

"The No. 1 designer came to Harlem," Dapper Dan said. "And said, 'we believe in you. We want to do this thing with you.' And we walk through Harlem. It was like a political campaign almost. We walk from my brownstone to the Apollo Theater. And when you look at the entourage, it's all Brown and Black people. And then you see the Gucci team, you know, the whole Gucci team embracing it."

On April 4, 2024, Sherwin-Williams announced that they will collaborate with Dapper Dan on a new fashion line called, 'The Loneliest Color.' The fashion collection was inspired by the brand's least popular color, 'Kingdom Gold SW 6698.' Dap will debut as the Creative Director of The Loneliest Color™.

Other brands such as Puma and Gap are following the fashion trends that Dapper Dan long has been providing.

"Usually we have to be them to succeed," Dapper Dan said. "We made it so that they had to be us to succeed. And so that's why you see every major brand has some of my influence in it."

He is currently working to recreate his designs from the past with a modern twist of reinvention. He studies African styles and sensibilities and puts his own twist on them, bringing them to the streets of Harlem and around the world.

"In our culture, you know, we take things that already exist and fashion them into who we are," Dapper Dan said. "And that's what I did with the logos. You know, I say, if Ralph Lauren can give you one horse, I'm going to give you all the horses and I'm going to give you herds. Gucci gonna give you 2 Gs, I'm gonna give you colorful Gs."