Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day | What to Expect from His Biopic
Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day is more than a Harlem fashion icon, he is a living legend, and if you’re not familiar with Dan’s story by now, here is a quick refresher.
The New York City-born couturier gained a reputation for his bespoke pieces made from fabrics and materials emblazoned with Louis Vuitton, Fendi, MCM and Gucci logos among others, and became a sensation for dressing icons in hip-hop, Olympians, and celebrities like Mike Tyson. After receiving lawsuits and getting raided, Dapper Dan shut his boutique down and tales of his influence on pop culture soon became lore.
Dan’s work reentered the fashion conversation after Gucci was accused of copying one of his designs for Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon, which Gucci said was homage and not a copy. Later, the Italian fashion house helped Dan open a new Harlem studio and the Harlemite fronted Gucci’s men’s tailoring campaign.
It doesn’t stop there for Dapper Dan either. Last week, news of a Dapper Dan biopic emerged with comedian Jerrod Carmichael at the helm. While no further details were revealed, what we know is that the film will be based on the tailor’s memoir, which begs the question: what should we expect from the Dapper Dan movie? Here’s a list of things we expect to see when the flick hits theaters.
The celebrity clientele
Let’s get this out of the way first. Dapper Dan designed custom pieces for Mike Tyson, Diane Dixon, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Salt N’ Pepa, Public Enemy, rappers Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, and Fat Joe among others. He was the tailor of the new generation of music that has since gone on to influence artists in other musical genres, as well as entertainment and marketing.
The legend of Dapper Dan in the 1980s is so alluring, because his client book and photo album rivals that of Studio 54’s. Knowing the tailored rubbed elbows with the leaders of the new school makes one realize just how influential he was on pop culture then and now.
Before entertainers came knocking on Dan’s door, he created pieces for known drug dealers Azie Faison and Alpo Martinez. The duo inspired the 2002 film Paid in Full, but only Alpo lent his name to one of Dan’s most popular pieces, the Alpo Coat, which the New Yorker described as “a beautiful tan-and-brown Louis Vuitton logo-print snorkel parka with a fox-fur hood.”
And when Dan closed his boutique, he was still in business. His most notable client post-heyday was Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was outfitted in Dan’s designs inside and outside of the ring.
His life before the boutique and how he started designing
Dapper Dan’s life before opening his boutique is as interesting and eventful as his life as a tailor. A profile by the New Yorker in 2013 revealed that he was “an accomplished shoplifter” as a teen, was arrested for selling drugs in the late 1960s, and was “a professional gambler” in the 1970s. He was also part of a gang before joining the Urban League, which led him on a trip to several African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tanzania, and later Liberia and Zaire.
Dan opened his boutique in 1982. Wholesalers stopped doing business with Dan because he would sell his products for less than the competition. Dan told Interview that a $400 coat wholesale sold for $1,200 at AJ Lester’s and $800 at his boutique. In response, he changed his business into “a full-service factory” and became his own supplier.
The New Yorker said, “Thinking back to the tailor in Liberia, he gave his business card to a Senegalese vender in midtown and told him, “If you know any Africans that can sew, tell them to come to my store.”
Some of the tailor’s first works were fur coats, and in an attempt to make his coats more interesting, he bought every garment bag in a Gucci boutique and used the bags’ leather panels on the coats.
The legal battle
Most of the film’s drama will likely be centered on the investigation of Dapper Dan’s business. The tailor knew that the fashion houses would be upset about his designs but he didn’t mind it. He reiterated to the New Yorker that he’s a gambler, suggesting that he knows the risks. Dan, in his heyday, received lawsuits from Louis Vuitton, Fendi and MCM.
The scene that kicked off the investigation of Dan’s business sounds like it was from a film too. Dazed in 2014 said that Mike Tyson, who once brought Naomi Campbell to Dan’s business, brawled with boxer Mitch Green in front of the boutique at 5am (Dan was not there to witness it). What makes this moment significant is Tyson’s outerwear: a Fendi jacket by Dapper Dan.
Lawyers at the Manhattan firm of Pavia & Harcourt, which represented Fendi, investigated the jacket’s origin and received an order from a judge to seize the clothing. Current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the charge for Fendi on behalf of the firm.
His time out of the limelight
The years between the closing of Dapper Dan’s Boutique and the tailor’s interview for Jay Z’s Life+Times in 2012 are a bit of a mystery. Did he continue creating bespoke designs? Did he live a simple, normal life? We’re leaning towards the former since he designed for Mayweather, who was introduced to Dan from his former manager and client of Dan, Eric B.
After his interview on Life+Times with longtime friend and street ball legend Pee Wee Kirkland, Dapper Dan became the subject of numerous profiles for magazines and publications that were not aware of the tailor of forgot about him. The memoir may fill the gap, depending on what story Dan wants to tell, but we expect the film to fill the gap and end the story with the opening of Dan’s new atelier with Gucci.
The cultural conversations
The legend of Dapper Dan is very special, dating back to 1898, the year his father was born. Dan told Interview Magazine that his father was “born a slave and later freed,” having been born 35 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. “It makes me feel blessed that I was part of the first generation born here.”
The laws of the land were written and rewritten during Dan’s life. For one, “getting fly” meaning dressing very well to outshine your peers is very much a part of Harlem culture and dates back to Dan’s heyday and several years prior. The concept has been upheld in entertainment by rap groups like The Diplomats and the A$AP Mob.
Gentrification was also a concept of note in Dan’s youth and heyday. He told Interview in 2015 about a study he read in prep school that explained the process of “urban renewal” and “negro removal.” He also said that he made sure he would stay in Harlem after seeing the State Office Building “which was the first building that they were going to put in Harlem to trigger gentrification.” Gentrification is a bigger topic today among New Yorkers, who have seen their beloved neighborhoods change in a span of years.
Articles for the New York Times and the New Yorker among others highlighted the number of corporations that have moved into the neighborhood and the increasing rent prices, which many believe are an attempt to force African-Americans out of their homes. Will Harlem’s rich cultural history be preserved or will it be erased with new, affluent tenants?
Speaking of erasure, the film will undoubtedly be centered on appropriation, intellectual property and counterfeiting. Dapper Dan bears similarities with Robin Hood, robbing logos and branding from luxury fashion houses to make bespoke garments for communities that weren’t being served by the companies. Depending on whom you speak to, Dan is a thief and a hack that needed luxury brands to make a buck, and to others, he’s a genius that saw a hole in the market in Harlem and capitalized on it. Who is the villain here: the man with a great eye for fashion design or big business for creating and owning its intellectual property?
Is creating one-of-a-kind pieces counterfeiting if you’re only using the materials and not copying a style outright? Today, the top fast fashion companies turn a quick dollar by peddling styles that bear a similarity to the hottest styles on the runway, and can get their pieces in stores before the luxury labels can due to their quick production times. Many companies are in the middle of litigation for alleged copying, but certain legal jargon prevent victims of wrongdoing from receiving justice. With that in mind, where do Dan’s iconic creations fall in the spectrum?
Finally, the topic of appropriation. Dan shut his business down after his assets were seized for appropriating brand logos that he did not own. Today, designers are accused of appropriating cultures without showing respect to the people they are drawing inspiration from. Appropriation and erasure go hand in hand in several cases, but it seems that brands can get into hot water in the court of public opinion and not in the court of law. It seems like you can take and use anything that you want to as long as it’s not under a copyright, which is one of the many lessons from Dan’s story.
WHERE FASHION GETS CREATIVE
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