Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And for Harlem designer Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day his praise has been a long time coming. From 1982-1992, Day designed knock-offs of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi originally for hustlers and then for celebrities and hip-hop artists, including Mike Tyson, LL Cool J and Eric B. and Rakim. Dapper Dan was known for making styles and sizes the luxury companies didn’t and wouldn’t offer.
The New York Times describes Day’s creations as “counterfeiting elevated to the level of art.”
In a twist of fate, however, over the summer Gucci copied Dapper Dan, who ironically made a career copying them and other luxury brands, and social media was quick to point out the hypocrisy. The result is an official collaboration between the two fashion brands, and this time around, Gucci will supply Day with all the Gucci logos he once had to pirate.
As reported by the New York Times, in May 2017 at a cruise collection show in Florence, Italy, Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, sent a mink jacket down the runway that was, in essence, a stitch-by-stitch remake of a jacket Day had designed for (and in collaboration with) the Olympian Diane Dixon in 1989. The most significant change was that the Louis Vuitton-logo puff sleeves of the original had been converted into Gucci Gs.
“I was very surprised,” Day said in an interview with the Times. “Everyone was. It was a wild moment.” The jacket and his original were “very similar — unmistakably similar.”
On Instagram, Dixon put up a post comparing the two jackets and demanded that Dapper Dan be credited. Black Twitter was ignited. And an op-ed in Teen Vogue dubbed the Dapper Dan/Gucci controversy as an example of “how the fashion industry fails black people.”
Vice went as far as accusing the clothing label of “ruining culture.”
According the Times, Gucci quickly said that the piece was an homage to Day’s creations – and not appropriation.
“For me, we can talk about appropriation a lot,” Michele told the Times. “I didn’t put a caption on it because it was so clear. I wanted people to recognize Dapper on the catwalk. It wasn’t appropriation, it was a homage, to me.”
Michele, added: “I understand that I am putting my hands in a kind of very delicate playground, the black community. But I love the black community. I think they have a big voice in terms of fashion.”
Since Day’s shop closed in 1992, we haven’t seen or heard much from the designer although he occasionally designs for private customers including Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But the Times reports that by the end of 2017, however, he is scheduled to open a second-generation Dapper Dan’s as a by-appointment studio for custom commissions, staffed hopefully with some of the original tailors, and “powered” by Gucci, which will now supply the raw materials.
An even bigger feat, the two design houses will collaborate on a capsule collection that will be produced and sold in Gucci stores worldwide next spring. The sharp dressed Day is also the model in Gucci’s new tailoring ad campaign, shot on the streets of Harlem.
“The thing that’s amazing is, what’s being celebrated today was shut down,” said Stephen Stoute, the founder and chief executive of the marketing and branding firm Translation, who helped to facilitate the partnership between Dapper Dan and Gucci.
“The couture guys were sitting in Italy, in Paris, deciding to shut it down, rather than embrace it. Now we look up in 2017, and Dan is the feature in their global advertising campaign. They’re releasing a collection that’s going to be in all locations around the world. We’re bringing Gucci to Harlem.”
Day also has a memoir, due out in 2018.