Dapper Dan's One Piece of Advice for Aspiring Designers: Embrace Machines
"If you overlook [technology], I don't see you going too far," said the legendary Harlem-based designer during a panel at Fashionista Con.
In the '80s and '90s, Dapper Dan was the king of cool, reigning from his throne in Harlem, N.Y., where his eponymous boutique housed flashy designs featuring "borrowed" logos from the likes of Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton, and drew everyone from gangsters to hip-hop artists to the occasional Olympic athletes.
Flash forward two decades — long after the designer's boutique was shut down due to legal action taken by the aforementioned fashion houses — and Dapper Dan is back in the spotlight, this time after Gucci's beloved Alessandro Michele sent a coat down his resort 2018 runway which bore a striking resemblance to one of Dapper Dan's own creations that was worn in 1989 by Olympian Diane Dixon. Some cried appropriation, the worst of criticisms that can be levied against a designer in 2017, but, as it turns out, Dapper Dan was in on it.
"We were very quiet about what transpired with the jacket in question," said Dan of his relationship with Michele, whom he called an inspiration and a true creative while speaking at a panel at Fashionista's Fashionista Con on Friday afternoon at The Whitby Hotel in New York. "When Alessandro came along and embraced me, I was very grateful."
After the jacket made the runway rounds, Gucci asked Dan to star in the brand's men's tailoring campaign, which was photographed in his home turf of Harlem. Gucci, owned by Kering, will also help the designer reopen his boutique, which Dan says will have a "Harlem meets Milan" vibe.
However, the best part of his relationship with the storied fashion house, he said, was the ability to tour the brand's factories in Florence, Italy, as understanding machines was pivotal in the building of his own business.
"I used to go to the factories where things were produced and I would see the type of machinery they were using and everything that was involved," he recalled of his early days in the industry. "If I couldn't get any information, I would wait until the factory closed and I would go into the garbage to see exactly what they were using."
"It was the '80s, so all the major factories were moving offshore.... I went to the auctions," he continued, adding that he would follow men around to eavesdrop on their discussions of the machines and thus learn more about how they worked. "Still, I would see everything in the mind of a guy from Harlem. Even though the machine was designed to create something in the fashion that they wanted, I would do other things with it."
So critical is learning about the technology to Dan, that he says its the most important thing an aspiring designer can get in tune with: "If you're just sketching, you're not seeing what technology can do for you," he explained. "Learn a really good software, the future in fashion is probably in these new machines. If you overlook that, I don't see you going too far."
As for what will be on offer at his boutique when it reopens, Dan didn't share too many details. He notes, however, that he was very inspired by the alligator shoes and well-tailored suits of the men he met in Milan. As for his own style, he adds, "I am every hip-hop artist tomorrow."