Harlem Designer Dapper Dan Discusses Fashion, Style and Society at the MoMA

Dapper Dan

The iconic Harlem couturier, Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan, shared his thoughts and knowledge on topics that transcend fashion and hit on themes concerning cultural appropriation, technology and society at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on Tuesday, January 9th. This discussion with the designer, known for remixing luxury logos with original designs that brought runway fashion to the streets, took place a week before the closing of the “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” exhibition. Currently on display at the MoMa is 110 years of history through the vantage point of clothing and accessories that defined pivotal moments in culture. Some of its most notable installations include Dan’s standout alterations that became the pinnacle of hip-hop culture in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

A decade of Hip-Hop heavy hitters such as Eric B. & Rakim on the cover of Paid in Full,  LL Cool J, Salt-n-Peppa, and others rocking Dan’s creations resulted in him being crowned the New York knock-off king and godfather of Hip-Hop style. Re-emergence of the Harlem native’s popularity came on the heels of observers who called out Gucci’s Resort 2018 collection that toted plagiarized versions Dapper’s signature designs. During the discussion led by the exhibition’s senior curator, Paola Antonelli, the New York designer who now works in partnership with Gucci shared the peaks and pitfalls of his career, talked about his faux-Gucci and Louis Vuitton jackets on display in the exhibition and shared some key takeaways for young fashion designers and entrepreneurs of color. Use technology as your pallet if you’re into fashion,” is what he emphasized as he urged young designers to stay knowledgeable about technological advancements, especially as it pertains to 3D printing, to use to their advantage. With the history of his signature logo-heavy designs rooted in his usage of screen printing, Dan believes that technology has been and will always be a major driver in cutting-edge fashion.

There is no denying that the line between inspiration and appropriation is often deemed unclear in today’s society. When asked what young up-and-coming black fashion designers’ response to today’s racially charged climate should be, he stated “you have to look at it for what is it and figure out, ‘how can I [make this work]?’” He highlighted the magnitude of success that can come through unpacking ways to use both the positive and negative as stepping stones, using the re-opening of his store in collaboration with Gucci after having his designs replicated as a testament to this.

Dan also referenced one of his favorite books, The End of Fashion by Teri Agins, noted the substance he gained from studying designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, and overall history of the industry. His advice for entrepreneurs and emerging designers heavily encouraged research. “Be aware of everything that has been done, is being done and how it’s being done.” He further explained how studying the greats from within the industry can be used as a catalyst in figuring out how to create and provide products that fill the voids of their target consumers.

Throughout the discussion, Dapper Dan hinted at an upcoming book that’s already in the works and it’s obviously sure to drop more of his gem-like wisdom. In the meantime, Dapper Dan’s boutique, located on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, is open for business.

Photography By: The New York Times

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