Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the 116th Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court and the FIRST Black woman to sit in the highest court.
Today in Black Excellence: Dapper Dan—the underground fashion icon who made history as the first Black designer to receive CFDA’s lifetime achievement award.
“I don’t give a damn about failure. I was born part of failure. We are the phoenix—all of us here in America, every black man, woman, and child are part of the phoenix, still rising from those ashes. All my life is about getting knocked down and getting back up. I don’t care. It’s fun!”—Dapper Dan.
What’s Dapper Dan’s story?
Born Daniel Day on August 8, 1944, in Harlem, New York City, into a working-class family. By 13, he was making thousands a day after teaching himself gambling. By the 70s, Dan first sold items out of his car, and in 1982, the iconic Dapper Dan’s Boutique had its grand opening —open 24/7.
Dan is self-taught—from his fabrics and leather printing, to his creations of unique textiles featuring Louis Vuitton and Gucci logos. His designs became synonymous with 80s hip-hop—but Dan was neglected by the fashion world, and his illegal use of major label logos led to police raids. Local attention became Global; European luxury fashion companies like Fendi caught wind and promptly took legal action. Dapper Dan’s Boutique was shut down in 1992. Ever the hustler, he continued working underground.
How did he come to win the CFDA award?
Ironically, to say the least, and on his own terms in true Dapper Dan style. Fans were outraged when they noticed Gucci steal one of his classic designs for a major show. The coat was first made for Olympian Diane Dixon, and she posted on Instagram: “Give Dapper Dan his credit. He did it first in 1989!” Incredibly, Gucci accepted its wrongdoing and sparked his career into new life when it offered a partnership.
At age 77, he made history as the first Black fashion designer honored with the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also the first designer to receive the honor without ever doing a solo fashion show. Truly the epitome of Black excellence.
Original portrait by Tumblr Creatr @patiencelekienart
There’s a quote by Faith Cummings that says, “We still struggle to garner a seat at the table. Even though we’ve oft built the table ourselves.” As a Black Creative, this is a reality many of us face. And Dapper Dan is a modern representation of just that—Black Excellence. He exemplifies how and why our contributions to culture often define culture. It was an honor dedicating this piece to him, as an extension of my gratitude and appreciation for the path he has paved for all Black Creatives. Thank you Dapper Dan.