Dapper Dan has always forged his own path.
As hip-hop was defining an era in the early 80’s and 90’s, Dapper Dan, who was born Daniel Day, was designing it. While he originally envisioned opening a luxury haberdashery, Day was met with the unjust reality that larger fashion houses refused to sell to him, so he turned to repurposing luxury fashion logos. Soon he was dressing some of the biggest names in hip-hop during a time when Black celebrities were not afforded the same access to high fashion houses, and in the process became a trailblazer in American style.
“I said to myself, I’m going to do what they did, better than they did it. That’s what started it all, but even doing what I did—what they did—better than they did, didn’t allow for us to have the recognition in the spaces that we should have had representation, so we always in the community had this feeling that we had to be better than whoever was doing it to get anywhere anyway, so that forced me to embark,” Day says from his Harlem brownstone. “I didn’t have the regular outlets to move ahead in the industry, to go up that staircase, to reach that high ceiling. I had to create a staircase for myself.”
Now as part of a new collaboration with Gap, the individuality that set him apart is being celebrated in a campaign spotlighting what the brand calls the “profound joy that comes with the freedom of being your true self.” As someone who operated outside of the mainstream almost his entire career, becoming the face of an American heritage brand presented a powerful possibility.
“When I got the opportunity for this collaboration with Gap, they said they were going to put a 30 foot billboard on 42nd street, the crossroads of the world. I knew this was an opportunity to take our culture even further,” he explains.
As part of their partnership, Gap released the limited-edition DAP Gap hoodie — a salmon-pink colored reimagination of the brand’s classic arch logo-hoodie designed by Day that reads “DAP” in the Gap’s signature typeface. As a Black designer shunned by the fashion industry for decades, Day is thrilled to share his resilient history in hopes of inspiring others. “I’m super happy about the collaboration with Gap because it is the great American brand that reaches across all ethnic groups, and now I’m telling my story to everybody,” Day says.
In a series of images, Day models the DAP Gap hoodie, styling the look with an ascot and his signature Gucci glasses. Known for his trademark swagger and ornate designs, designing a hoodie was new territory for Day but also a chance to explore the symbolism of the ubiquitous fashion staple.
“I want to destigmatize the impressions people have of people of color with a hoodie on, especially thinking of Trayvon Martin,” he says.
Created in America, the hoodie has remained a mainstay of American fashion and Gap’s utilitarian aesthetic for decades, but has also become a powerful symbol of the duality of the racial politics in America. Day hopes to harness the power of visual language through this larger than life image unapologetically embracing the hoodie and conjuring joy through its bright color to combat the ways it has historically been used to vilify Black men.