dapper danDAPPER DAN MADE IN HARLEM: A MEMOIR, Daniel R. Day. Random House, $28.00 (277p) ISBN-13: 9780525510512
Publication date: July 9, 2019

He might have been born and raised in Harlem, but his impact as a fashion designer has been felt worldwide. Daniel Day, a.k.a. Dapper Dan, is a man of immense complexity. He was born in 1944, one of seven children, and was a Daddy’s boy, not a Momma’s boy. His impoverished upbringing was not unique (i.e., holey shoes, roaches, hunger, petty crime, substance abuse, hustlin’, etc.) but nonetheless tragic.

He dropped out of high school, sold and used drugs, gambled, did some jail time, became a journalist, went to college for a short while, fathered children out of wedlock, gambled some more, visited some African nations, masterminded a credit card scheme, did more time in jail, gambled, and sold stolen goods—all of this before he became Dapper Dan the designer. You get a sense that as a follower of the Harlem street code, Dan is only giving you part of the story (and a small part at that). He was a man who has seen plenty and done plenty, much of it, not good.

As an entrepreneur, Dan knew early the importance of finding and fulfilling a desire and locating the customer. In the 1980s, the drug dealers had the deepest pockets and had a thirst for spending lavishly. Dan understood the Hustler’s need to have a distinctive wardrobe. He also understood that many fast-money folk had a strong yearning for name brands and wanted to pay top dollar even if it meant overpaying. Dan was a master gambler (in dice games) who was well aware of the Hustler’s need to shine. He used the same psychological tactics on those who would eventually buy his clothes that he used on those unsuspecting (and sometimes suspecting) street cats during his gambling stints. Dan was no tailor, but he had a keen sense of what Hustler’s wanted to wear. He would give them the name and logo but design the look and feel of the clothing around Harlem style.

Dan “borrowed” the logos of Gucci, Louis Vitton, MCM, et al, put that “Uptown” flair to them, and tailored the merchandise for the customer—all within a 24-hour window. He hired workers from Senegal who could sew endlessly because his shop on 125th street stayed open 24/7, 365, for nine years running. The rappers of the time, were heavily influenced by the “streets” and they (rappers) began to get outfits from Dapper Dan. This gave him more visibility, which led to more customers coming from, at first, the tri-state region, and then from many other states.

His celebrity clientele was a “Who’s Who” with the most infamous moment being a fight right outside his shop between Mitch “Blood” Green and “Iron” Mike Tyson that made international headlines. The notoriety of the incident led to the demise of the location and his operation, but in true Harlem Hustler style, Dan rose from the ashes and came back even stronger.

Gucci made a deal with Dapper Dan which has helped the brand to have a measure of acceptance in the African-American community, even though some might argue that Gucci’s “Blackface sweater” controversy is an unforgivable misstep. There are those who feel Gucci is using Dapper Dan. If you read the memoir, you’ll know that nobody can pull a fast one over Dapper Dan. Gucci beware!

Rating: Booking Cool

Rating Scale

Cool: Decent

So Cool: Good

Booking Cool: Excellent

So Booking Cool: Masterpiece

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