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.
This is what love looks like
This is what happiness looks
This is what joy looks like
This is what living in your purpose looks like
Un-ADULT-erated Black Joy Activation
@ BAMS Fest Boston 2022
📸 Tess Scheflan
We don’t take our mission lightly. Just like everyone else we sometimes question what we’re doing. We sometimes wonder if it’s making a difference. And sometimes we’re reminded just how powerful and transformative our work is. Since 2014 we’ve made it our mission to center our triumph over our trauma…our power over our pain. We bear witness to a truth that so much effort has been exerted to deny. And we will continue. Black Joy is Revolutionary and we will continue to be leaders in this revolutionary approach to healing, loving, flourishing. I am a revolutionary and am so honored to have you with me in this Joyful Rebellion. -cm —- #blackmensmile #blackjoy #revolutionary #blackjoyisrevolutionary #resist https://www.instagram.com/p/CfmUMWnL1UW/?igshid=NGJjMDIxMWI=
Today in Black Excellence: Maya Angelou—a literature titan whose 1969 memoir was the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” —Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
What was the early life of Maya Angelou?
She became a celebrated writer and Black icon, but it came from a childhood of tragedy. Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou was quickly exposed to racism as a child. Her parents split when she was young, and while visiting her mother, aged eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend: her uncles killed the boyfriend in revenge. These horrors left Angelou mute for five years, as she discussed in an interview with Oprah, a close friend. At age 16, she gave birth and was forced to work grueling jobs to support her son—including fry cook, sex worker, and nightclub performer.
She recounted her traumas to close friend James Baldwin—fellow writer and Black icon. He challenged Angelou to write about her experiences, and she published the wildly successful memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It catapulted Angelou to international stardom and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970. It remained on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction bestseller list for two years—the longest record in history.
What made her such a Black icon?
Angelou was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated on her birthday in 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterward. In 1964, Angelou helped another activist friend Malcolm X in founding the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Spanning over 50 years, she published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, books of poetry, and plays. Her 1971 poetry collection, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’Fore I Die, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Because of her tireless work in literature and political activism, Angelou became widely respected as a spokesperson for the Black experience, particularly of women. You can even find her legacy in your pocket—she recently became the first black woman to appear on a US quarter.
Original portrait by Tumblr Creatr @inuqo
"I was filled with such deep gratitude while working on this illustration of Maya Angelou. Her talent, creativity, strength, power and resilience is inspiring to us all and I wanted to display how beautiful her Universe was. How important her words and life's journey was because it showed us that no matter how hard we fall, still we can rise".”