Vintage Files! Dapper Dan of Harlem


Who || Dapper Dan Of Harlem 

AKA || The King Of Hip Hop Fashion

Occupation || Style Icon, Extraordinar Tailor 

Known For || Owner of the famous 125th Street Tailoring Boutique Shop from 1982 until it closed in 1992. Using fabrics from high fashion European houses such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and MCM. Dapper Dan became known for re-purposing, revamping and remixing the brand fabric into custom garments.  His clothing and styling has influenced Hip Hop culture since the early 80s.

When || 1980s

Where || New York, New York

Why We Love Him ||  O.G. Style ... Dapper Dan redefined high fashion tuning luxury garments into statement pieces for street wear during the 1980's. His own story is more than his brand and clothing; it is also about the beautiful struggle in being a young black male designer in America during the 80's and about  how is personal success has aided in  the development of a collective fashion identity in the hip hop community and urban culture.   

Favorite Quote II  "I was dead broke. I told my friends back then, if they weren’t going to let me in the door, I’ll just do what they do better than they do it. And do it for us."

Custom Bally, Fendi, and MCM walking suit and short sets.

Dapper Dan was a "fashion hustler" who became a fashion legend in the 80s for making "bespoke menswear garments at his eponymous boutique in Harlem for black celebrities like Mike Tyson and crack kingpins like Alberto “Alpo” Martinez.  His clothes were emblazoned with the monograms of European fashion houses at a time when those companies—Gucci, Louis Vuitton—were mainly producing leather goods and accessories."  People  traveled far and wide to place personal orders, either getting custom pieces that were unique or asking for versions they had seen on their favorite rappers, athletes, socialite or drug dealers. (

 Dapper Dan on why he got into fashion: "Here are two points—two major points with me being involved in fashion. The first point is, I didn’t have any influences in terms of people already in the fashion industry who excited me or anything like that. It was more about stores, as opposed to fashion designers. Stores had the influence. Major stores where guys like The Rat Pack used to shop. Frank Sinatra, all those guys we saw as hip, were the influences in terms of me being excited about fashion. Even more so than that was the hustlers on the street, who had the money and were major influences in fashion at the time. So that was my primary motivating force initially. I went into fashion as an alternative to being in the street and doing other things. I turned away from that. But at the time what was going on, the designers at the time, they were stigmatized that you had to be of a certain sexual persuasion. So the inner city didn’t gravitate towards that till later on." (Mass Appeal)


Dapper Dan (right) posing with customers from New Haven, CT

Three brothers in customized Louis Vuitton and fur gear in 1988

Dapper Dan in the store w/ Gucci Raincoat and Rain hat, custom made jackets in the back.

Words Of Wisdom! Dapper Dan-There's No Right or Wrong - "Fashion Gems" 

Coming Soon! Dapper Dan (left) at his boutique’s storefront in 1983

Dapper Dan on the first piece he sold: " The piece that triggered everything was a Louis Vuitton sweatshirt, and I sold it for $100. I felt excited, and the excitement that generated from the piece. The Louis Vuitton sweatshirt only needed a small screen [to print the design]. I began to explore how to make larger formats that I could use and print on, as well as printing on leather. So the first thing I made was like a Louis Vuitton sweatshirt. It made me go deeper into the direction that I eventually ended up going in—and at the time, $100 was a lot for a sweatshirt."(Mass Appeal)

The Dapper Dan storefront in Harlem in 1984

Dapper Dan's  MCM Wrangler Jeep 


 Kwam√© picking up his custom made jacket , 1989
Dapper Dan on his customers: "Okay, to give you an example, the average person would not accept what I was doing in the beginning, because they were like, “Oh no, Gucci didn’t make that, he made that.” So, my most loyal customers were those who were already outside of the system, which were the so-called gangsters and the money-men in Harlem. They didn’t talk about it, so it didn’t make no difference. As long as it was fly and it fit and it made them look good, they was with it. So, I would say the gangster element was my most loyal. From day one to today, those are the most loyal. So after the street guys put on for you and your designs, when did the artists see what you were doing and say, “Yo, we want a piece of that too”? Which artists gave your brand the most exposure?" (Mass Appeal)

Mike Tyson with a customized piece from Dapper Dan

LL Cool J performing in Dapper Dan in 1987

Salt-n-Pepa in customized Dapper Dan jackets, 1987

Watch! Dapper Dan Vice Interview: Harlem World

 Dapper Dan on brands using his ideas today and “blackenized” fashion "When I began to take the Louis Vuitton symbols and use them in a way they had never been used before, it opened up a new world for them. Now you see them copying and taking graffiti and using it on their bags and circles. We see them looking for other ways to be creative with their brands and their trademarks, so they reach out to further what I had already started. The interesting thing I found about all this shit is when [Louis Vuitton] started using the artist Murakami because of the flowery designs. If you get deep into fashion, you look at what the designers are doing, what the statements are all about, and it makes you go into the mind of whoever is creating that statement." (mass appeal)

Diane Dixon, 80's Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist 

Rob Base & DJ E Z Rock

Dapper Dan on his mission: "What I want to bring to fashion is something that makes people look at our culture and say, “Wow, these people are deep, ya know?” I think that’s the greatest part of what’s going on, because people can see our contribution; the minorities’ contribution to fashion now. In an artistic way. So, I am fascinated that people are beginning to see that they’re following path, and taking fashion and embracing different concepts by different artists.I found a quote on Twitter that said, “You can’t be in it and not be of it.” I just wanted you to explain that to the newer generation of folks who feel like creating original content and clothing is easy.

Custom Air Force 1, 1986


Rakim wearing a custom Gucci sweater and matching hat

 Stepping on toes! While it’s no surprise that "the designer brands objected to Dapper Dan’s use of their logos during the uprising of Harlem’s crack era. it’s still worth recognizing that what Dapper Dan did was a totally original re-imagination of style. It wasn’t available to them, so they made it their own– not necessarily in an attempt to undermine the brand. Love it or hate it, it’s well-worth a second look from anybody interested in a crossroads of aesthetics, class and culture." (

The infamous drug dealer Alberto "Alpo" Martinez in 1988

Bobby Brown in 1988, in Dapper Dan’s Gucci Suit


In 1989,  Dapper Dan made a cameo and did wardrobe for DJ Chuck Chillout and Kool Chip’s music video for their single, “I’m Large”, which was directed by  "Blow
 director Ted Demme.


Advice 4 The Youth! "Young people now who are going to [design schools like] Parsons and FIT are getting a great education from a technical point of view, and that’s a great thing. But that’s not being in it and of it. You would have to go to where they went to, to get the concepts that the brands used. They came into where the culture is sparked at, where the culture keeps renewing itself, like the legendary Phoenix it crashes and it rises again from its ashes. So, the technical part is good for FIT and Parsons and all these schools…but that’s not in it and of it. It’s the sacrifice and the beauty of it. The way to extract that is to be in it and of it and to be part of it. That’s what it’s all about—and it’s trials and tribulations with that. What that statement is about, there’s consequences with that, as well as a constructive way to further ourselves in fashion."

Da Tea!... In 1988, two of Dapper Dan’s clients, boxers Mike Tyson and Mitch Green crossed paths upon entering and leaving the Harlem boutique at 5AM in the morning. The encounter resulted in an  scuffle that hit headlines everywhere and landed Dan’s boutique with some unwanted publicity. As a result of the exposure, the brands that had refused to sell Dan their clothing for his 125th street boutique, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Fendi, all sued him.

 Dan with LL Cool J



  Which Dapper Dan pieces are your favorite? Thank 4 Reading! 



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