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Home > Style > Fashion > Icons before Instagram: Dapper Dan, and how his bootlegging inspired logomania
Icons before Instagram: Dapper Dan, and how his bootlegging inspired logomania

Daniel Day — or more fondly known as Dapper Dan — recently made a splash in the headlines. The ’80s couturier resurfaced in the limelight after Gucci’s extravagant Resort 2018 show unveiled a jacket not unlike the one he designed 25 years back.

Oh Gucci, you didn’t

Originally worn by former Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon, the exaggerated leg-o-mutton sleeves of the fur-lined Dapper Dan jacket was printed with Louis Vuitton’s monogram print. Alessandro Michele’s new Gucci rendition? Not much difference, save for the Louis Vuitton markings being replaced by Gucci’s interlocking double-G logos.

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Dapper Dan’s original mahogany fur and leather Louis Vuitton jacket donned by Olympian Diane Dixon. (Photo: Dapper Dan)

Sparking social media frenzy, Dixon took a jab at the Gucci-Dapper Dan fiasco by posting a photo on her Instagram account of the Gucci ‘remake’ side by side with Day’s, captioning it: “‘Bish’ stole my look! Give credit to @dapperdanharlem He did it FIRST in 1989!”

Not long after, Gucci issued an acknowledgement on Instagram stating the jacket was indeed inspired by the Harlem provocateur, “a homage to Dapper Dan.” Gucci then went on to reach out to the man himself to explore the possibilities of a collaboration.

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Gucci’s rendition of Dapper Dan’s jacket. (Photo: Gucci)

The logomania of 2017

What’s ironic is that three decades ago, Dapper Dan was slammed with lawsuits from the brands whose logos he stole. Forced to close down his boutique, his bootlegging legacy came to an abrupt end in 1992.

Now everything has come full circle. With the high-fashion radical pranksters of Vetements — whose mastermind currently holds total creative control at Balenciaga, one of Paris’ storied couture houses — fashion has forged a new path where banality is unquestionably welcomed.

dapper dan in his boutique 1992
Danniel Day wearing his own custom clothing in his shop, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, which closed in 1992. (Photo: Dapper Dan)

Logo appropriations are widely accepted today, celebrated and even repeatedly called clever. By simply swivelling Champion’s C logo 90 degrees, turning it into a V and embroidering it onto a hoodie, Vetements was applauded. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s skater-inspired take was more direct: Deeming them collaborations, he roped in Kappa and Fila, only to plaster his pieces with their logos above his own.

Alexander Wang, too, turned the patented Adidas trefoil logo upside down for his sought-after collaboration collection with the German sportswear giant. And most recently, Balenciaga took over Paris’ leading concept store Colette with eclectic exhibitions and a range of collectibles featuring a remade Bernie Sanders logo.

Well, the thing is, Dapper Dan did it first.

His hip hop Harlem roots

The closure of Dapper Dan’s Boutique was a devastating moment for Day’s large loyal clientele, which included the likes of Mike Tyson (who brought along former beau Naomi Campbell for fittings at Day’s atelier), Frank Sinatra as well as rappers Nelly and LL Cool J.

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Daniel Day (left) and rapper LL Cool J in Dapper Dan attire. (Photo: Dapper Dan)

An entrepreneur in his own right, Day understood why his followers needed his special one-off creations. “For my customers it was the same thing: They were buying a piece of real estate in their social world. The more that they could pay, the bigger effect it had in their social world,” Day explained in an interview with Vestoj. “I knew what property they needed to buy to accelerate and elevate in their social circle. That’s exactly what I was selling. I was selling them the ability to be somebody in their circle.”

A native of New York’s gritty Harlem, Day came from a working-class family that lived on a shoestring budget. Since his childhood days, the big dreamer believed his only way out for a better life was dressing the part. So he followed the sartorial choices of tough moneyed guys from his neighbourhood: Silk suit, tie and lizard shoes. His unfaltering way of dapper dressing and unbeatable gambling chops earned him his now-famous nickname.

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Dapper Dan’s MCM Leather suit worn by Bilal Abdulsamad of The Boys. (Photo: Dapper Dan)

In the ’80s, the golden era of hip hop dawned, and Day sensed his opportunity. “When hip hop came along, it was the same thing: Everybody wanted to look like the most successful of the rappers,” he explained.

He knew all the “boosters” — people who shoplifted from department stores — and bought garments from them to resell them at a profit. He went from selling clothes out of his car to opening his boutique. Word of mouth made it all history.

The Dapper Dan fashion philosophy

“My philosophy now is as it always has been: There’s no right or wrong in fashion, how can there be? There’s only weak or strong. Power determines fashion,” the 72-year-old former designer declared.

His theory rings true and relevant. No matter how ridiculous today’s fashion trends may be, a trend’s a trend — because at the end of the day, those with the power to impact the world, are the ones who truly win.

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Dapper Dan in his store, wearing “Gucci” Raincoat and Rain hat. (Photo: Dapper Dan)

Maximalism is on the rise, reaching a fever pitch with its presence palpable even on the racks at fast fashion retailers Zara and Topshop — all influenced by the romantic Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Russian rebel Demna Gvasalia at both Vetements and Balenciaga.

The industry sure is taking a long, hard look at institutional notions of “bad taste.” And chief among those notions is the glorious return of logomania. So here’s hoping that a revival of the legendary Dapper Dan’s Boutique is in the works.

(Main image: Louis Vuitton; Featured image: Dapper Dan)

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