Dapper Dan Once Made a Name Knocking Off Gucci. Now They're Paying to Tell His Story
How a feud between the high fashion brand and the iconic designer became an unlikely friendship.
Getty Images / Mike Coppola
*Correction 1/14/2019: A previous version of this story included both a headline and sentence incorrectly stating that the brand Gucci pursued litigation against Dapper Dan. We regret the error.
In New York City in the 1980s and 90s, when hip-hop was taking off with a certain flash and flare, there was no better way to show you'd made it than to cop a luxury jacket in Harlem made by Dapper Dan, the fashion designer born Daniel Day. Reinventing high fashion for people of color, while ironically using knock-off Gucci symbols, was part of Dapper Dan’s mystique. But the world of high fashion was not amused, and mounting legal pressure helped push him out of business in 1992.*
But now history is rewriting itself. This week, Gucci released a tribute photography book titled Dapper Dan’s Harlem, telling the designer's life story through evocative images shot by photographer and filmmaker Ari Marcopoulos. The brand threw a launch party during men's fashion week in Florence, Italy, on Tuesday, where Dapper Dan signed the first copies.
The book, which also features archival shots of Harlem and portraits of Dapper Dan's close friends, is only the latest development in their budding relationship. In 2017, Gucci helped Dapper Dan reopen his Harlem atelier decades after it closed, on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, just blocks away from its original location. In 2018, after audiences called Gucci out for seemingly copying one of his jacket designs in their Cruise 2018 collection, Dapper Dan and the brand began collaborating on a streetwear line.
Gucci's tribute book may be destined to become a collector's item, unfortunately. There are only 500 copies, and each one costs $200. Dapper Dan's life story is still accessible to the masses, however, because the designer also released a memoir this week titled Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem, which has already been optioned as a movie by Sony and will be adapted by Jerrod Carmichael ( The Carmichael Show).
In the memoir, Dapper Dan explains how he went from an impoverished childhood, to hustling, to serving time in prison, to taking over high fashion streetwear one celebrity at a time. His legendary duels with the fashion elite are in there too, of course. Dapper Dan's unlikely, epic story seems to keep writing itself. By the time his biopic comes out, we may even be graced with a few new chapters.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Taylor Hosking on Twitter.