Luxe Streetwear Designers Dapper Dan and The Hundreds' Bobby Kim Share Their Fashion Stories in New Books

Renell Medrano; Courtesy of The Hundreds

"When I was growing up, all my role models in this part of the fashion world were white men. I've really never thought that I could do it; I just always assumed I was going to be a consumer,” Kim tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The fashion world may be familiar with the inner stardom of Daniel R. Day (a.k.a. the legendary Harlem boutique owner and Gucci-beloved designer Dapper Dan who resurrected logo mania) and Bobby Hundreds (née Bobby Kim, co-founder of L.A.-based streetwear label The Hundreds). Now, the two entrepreneurs (who both boast Jay-Z as a superfan) are sharing their stories with a larger audience in new books, giving fashion historians and fans deeper insight into their respective rise in the luxe streetwear industry.

Kim’s This Is Not a T-Shirt (the title is a nod to René Magritte’s "The Treasure of Images" painting) was released June 25 on MCD, while Day’s memoir, Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem, co-authored with writer Mikael Awake, hit shelves July 9 from Penguin Random House.

Day’s book chronicles his rise from a “dirt poor” Harlem hustler to the godfather of hip-hop fashion in his new 304-page memoir. Long before creating “knock-ups” of logo-emblazoned luxury designer pieces for Jay-Z, Diddy, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Jam Master Jay and Naomi Campbell (to name just a few), his previous “hustles” involved shoplifting, gambling and credit card fraud — and it’s not until the last quarter of the book that readers delve into his life as the star-beloved couturier and boutique owner who reopened his eponymous atelier (not far from its original outpost) in 2018. The store originally opened in 1982 but was forced to close in 1992 after several luxury fashion houses sued Day for using counterfeit materials.

Fashion fans will get to see that evolution on screen when Day’s biopic eventually hits theaters. The Sony development is currently being adapted from the book by writer and actor Jerrod Carmichael, who is producing alongside Immersive Pictures’ Josh Bratman. (Day and his son, brand manager Jelani Day, are executive producers.) A release date hasn’t been set, but Day tells The Hollywood Reporter that “it’s going to be a format like Forrest Gump, that way it can bring in all the different changes in my life.”

His story begins in 1944 in a “Harlem that was still in the midst of its Renaissance.” Nicknamed Dancing Danny as a child, the style-minded entrepreneur — the fourth son of seven children — made a living as a craps gambler and earned enough money to buy his own clothes. “No more hand-me-downs from my brothers… No more shoplifting,” he writes. He was christened Dapper Dan by a “sharply dressed older hustler” who passed the nickname down to the teen-aged Day after observing his “fly” style and dice game skills.

In the 1960s he got caught up in drug addiction, which led to prison (he served time in New York and Aruba) before eventually getting clean; spirituality and activism with the Nation of Islam followed. “For a while, I had a foot in both worlds, the academy and the streets,” writes Day. Eye-opening trips to Africa with Columbia University and the nonprofit Urban League (he returned to America “with nothing but African clothes”) instilled an appreciation for skilled artisans and tailors.

“I needed to find a way off the streets, but until I figured out what that would be, I was content to hustle dealers out of their drug money. For the next ten years, as I slowly found my way towards the fashion game and money from the drug trade flooded Harlem, dice became my primary income, my main hustle,” he writes in the book.

Ultimately, fashion was his way out. Day started selling stolen department store clothing out of his car in the mid-’70s before opening the pioneering Dapper Dan Boutique, attracting “hustlers and drug dealers” with his decadent fur and leather jackets. His clientele grew to future moguls and cultural icons, such as Olympian Diane Dixon (who called out Gucci in 2017 for pieces inspired by but not originally attributed to Dapper Dan in the 2018 cruise collection).

Day reworked Louis Vuitton garment bags into tailored suits and cherry red MCM-print leather became upholstery for his Jeep Wrangler. Then hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim wore his now-infamous Gucci jackets on the cover of their debut album, Paid in Full, putting Dapper Dan on the radar of rap royalty.

Part autobiography and part brand-building bible, Kim's 326-page book mixes his own coming-of-age stories with the business and life lessons he's learned from creating the L.A.-based streetwear empire he founded in 2003 with friend Ben Shenassafar (a.k.a. Ben Hundreds), who he met at Loyola Law School. Growing up in Riverside as one of the only Korean-Americans in school, the skateboarding and hardcore punk scenes were his refuges: "Years later, when we started The Hundreds, I carried over the hardcore philosophy into our brand experience," he writes.

“When I was growing up, all my role models in this part of the fashion world were white men. I've really never thought that I could do it; I just always assumed I was going to be a consumer,” he tells THR.

After graduating from UC San Diego, Kim decided to make "the big move to Los Angeles, possibly to pursue acting or design or to intern at an ad agency," Kim writes. He ended up getting a taste of Tinseltown with his 2017 documentary, Built To Fail, his directorial debut that explores streetwear’s transformation from a subculture inspired by skate and punk into a global phenomenon. 

Often called a “character” as a child, Kim considered a career in front of the camera “a pipe dream...Growing up in the '80s being Korean-American, there was no example of me being represented in media [besides] Jackie Chan,” he tells THR. “I remember Rumble in the Bronx came out and our whole family went. The other roles where Long Duk Dong [played by Gedde Watanabe in Sixteen Candles] — so a punchline, or a sushi chef, or Mr. Miyagi, and that was about it.”

He continued: “We started this company really centralized around my blog thehundreds.com, and it was years before social media, I've been writing my whole life. I think I was recognized earlier as a kid for my art more than writing… so I kind of pursued that as my hobby. I felt like my identity was rooted more in my art and my visual work, so I built the brand around that. But the core and the DNA of the brand, it's always been essentially formulated around storytelling.”

In the book, Kim recalls his "Bobby Kim Project" pitch in what would be The Hundreds' first business meeting: "Imagine a company that’s half T-shirt brand, half online magazine. The T-shirt graphics all have a substantive story to them, which I’ll write about on my blog. That way, you’re not just buying a logo… As far as the magazine, everyone’s focused on New York and Japan right now, but we have talented friends here in L.A. who are getting clipped from the conversation. Los Angeles is getting a bad rap with the reality shows, Paris Hilton hijinks, and Von Dutch trucker caps."

Kim and Shenassafar launched their label from a Venice studio and Fred Segal in Santa Monica was the first stockist. The underdog brand grew from Kim’s original designs screen-printed on American Apparel blanks into an international lifestyle label and print magazine. Brand collaborators include Disney, Puma, Adidas, Reebok and the estate of Jackson Pollock and Reebok, while Jay-Z, Kanye West, Jonah Hill, Lena Waithe and Jessica Alba, who sings her praises on the book jacket, are all fans. (Kim also worked with Alba on his womenswear line, Jennifer, that debuted in 2017.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

@bobbyhundreds: “One of the pivotal chapters of my book begins with our 10th Anniversary party at Disneyland. Back in 2013, we shut down the park for a private The Hundreds party, invited 2,000 of our friends and fans, and even got to serve liquor in Tomorrowland. The majority of our guests got booted for substances and tailgating in the parking lot, but for those who kept their heads on straight, we had zero lines and endless rides til 2am (After you ride Space Mountain 3x in a row without getting off, you realize why Disneyland doesn't allow alcohol ). One of my favorite memories was watching Chrissy Teigen, Erin Andrews, and Brooklyn Decker having a dance-off in front of Cinderella's castle while confused hypebeasts passed by. To commemorate the night, we printed a limited run of official The Hundreds X Disneyland T-shirts, but we were having so much fun, we forgot to hand the majority out. Last week, while we were digging up fun prizes for my Book Contest, we stumbled upon 2 boxes of these rare shirts, so - For Contest No. 10, as a throwback to our 10th Anniversary, I will be sending a The Hundreds X Disneyland T-shirt to 3 lucky winners. To play, just buy my book (link in bio) and forward your order confirmation to info@thehundreds.com in the next 12 hours. I will also throw in a Black Adam T-shirt (our rarest T-shirt ever). As always, if you’ve already played, you can participate again. Just email your proof of purchase. Contests are every Tuesday and Friday until my book, This Is Not a T-shirt, hits the streets on June 25.”

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The brand’s 2008 Disney collaboration reimagined the Lost Boys of Peter Pan for a new audience. “I remember when I got my publishing deal, one of the things that I was pitching to the publishers is that I don't think they necessarily look at young teenage men, twenty-something guys, as an ideal audience. We had a lot of licensing and collaborative partners throughout the brand's history that  felt the same way. I remember at that time [Disney] really only targeted children and female audiences. They said, ‘We have no inroads with men.’ And I said, ‘If you work with us, I'll show you.’ It opened up an entire new lane; more young guys were getting into Disney. It was the same thing with the book. I wanted to open up this world of young men really getting into literature, into books, into fiction or nonfiction.”

Both Day and Kim agree that social media is fueling the spread of streetwear culture, particularly to Asia and Africa, says Day, who tells THR that he’s “very concerned [that] we’re gonna lose our ability to play if we don’t move quickly," comparing the movement to music. "The same thing that's happening now with [pop supergroup] BTS in Korea. [They] are doing better hip-hop than the Americans and the African Americans. I'm happy that we have that impact, but it saddens me if we're not able to [maintain] the power of the source from which it came. [International creators who develop] a genre of their own won't even need us in the future as influencers.”