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Dapper Dan – From South Africa to Harlem with love

The larger than life story of celebrated Harlem couturier Dapper Dan

The larger than life story of celebrated Harlem couturier Dapper Dan, real name Daniel Day is one that never ceases to amaze. Draping many American big name stars such as boxing champions Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, rapper LL Cool J, female rap extraordinaire Missy Elliot to actress Salma Hayek, NOWinSA brings you an exclusive – courtesy of Bataung Memorial Tombstones – on the man known largely for breaking fashion’s most important rule, by co-opting luxury logos in his own bespoke pieces in the form of Gucci, Fendi, Chanel and Louis Vuitton – the latter of which sued him into oblivion for copyright infringement in the ‘90s.

Defensive to this day of his calculated dealings as he was back then, Day argues he was filling a legitimate gap in the market, at a time when European fashion houses were creating the kind of looks – knee length suedes skirts, faux pearls and tweeted jackets – which many deemed absurd for the ghetto fabulous streets of Harlem.

His custom-made balloon sleeved “Gucci” bombers, jumpsuits and fur coats knock-ups (née knockoffs) often using lambskin and mink epitomised Harlem’s oh-so-cool hustler life, paving the way for ready-to-wear high street fashion which not only did we come to love and know today, but has been extensively adopted by a handful of Luxury European brands.

Then late last year more than two decades after Gucci took Day to the cleaners, the Italian brand did the unthinkable, by recreating a coat identical to one that he had made for Olympic sprinter Diane Dixon back in 1989 as part of their 2018 Renaissance cruise collection, passed it as its own with no credit given to Day. Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele was forced to eat a humble for the blunder, resulting in the company reaching out to Day. This marked the start of their new relationship, which saw the reopening of Dapper Dan’s Boutique in Harlem, which specializes in bespoke garments created with raw materials by Gucci.

The story of how Day went from being Gucci’s public enemy No.1 to a source of creative inspiration “is not just the story of a fascinating man,” reasoned “It is also about how black culture has been appropriated, and how black consumers have been treated by the luxury industry.”

“Dapper Dan’s story resonates with us a lot as a leading brand that still operates in the township”

Fast forward 2018, it’s this type of heart-touching stories that made one South African man, the trailblazing entrepreneur, Lebohang W. Khitsane of Bataung Memorial Tombstones to sit up and take notice. Through the Bataung Memorial sister company, Bataung Legacy, Khitsane bestowed a life-size bust to the highly celebrated couturier last month at his strictly by appointment only atelier in Harlem.

“This year we decided to award a global icon that embodies our values and who has been a beacon of hope for creative and entrepreneurs from the townships. Dapper Dan’s story resonates with us a lot as a leading brand that still operates in the township/projects,” said Khitsane, who has created statues for SA’s luminaries such Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

As South Africa continues to celebrates this fitting honour for a man whose life story resonates well with many African youngsters looking to make their mark outside of their confines, we are pleased to share these words of encouragement Day shared on Instagram in March, just a day after Hollywood actress donned his custom pink and gold 2-piece Gucci ensemble at the Vanity Fair Oscars soiree with Dapper Dan’s name… hmmm well and Soweto all over it.

The post read: “@SalmaHayek wore the most important outfit of the night. It wasn’t because she is absolutely stunning—because she is. It wasn’t because it was the best outfit of the night—because it wasn’t. It’s not because it was @Gucci, nor is it because it was made by #DapperDan,” he writes in the Instagram post below. “No. It was the most important because it sent a message to my pen pals in the favelas of Brazil, and in Soweto, South Africa, and in every ghetto in the world where people are trying to find a way to “make it from The Corner to the rest of the world.” It is important because they know that my story is their story and that if someone of Salma’s stature would wear something of mine, then they, too, can be a designer. #Harlem.”

Tankiso Komane
Tankiso Komane
A Tshwane University of Technology journalism graduate, Tankiso Komane has a vast experience in print & broadcast media business and has worked for some of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, including The Sowetan, The Citizen, The Times, and The New Age. Through her varied work as a journalist, notably as a copywriter for SABC1 (On-Air promotions) and as a publicist for Onyx Communications, she has developed an in-depth understanding of the nature of the media business and how to use it for the purpose of exposure. Her expertise in journalism across various disciplines, coupled with a good reputation, has laid the foundation of a new kind "trust in Journalism" as the media ecosystem continues to digitally evolve.
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