Steve Jobs, quoting Pablo Picasso or maybe the literary critic Lionel Trilling, once said: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The line is likely apocryphal, but it could have easily come from Daniel Day, a.k.a. Dapper Dan, the Harlem couturier famous for sampling and remixing the look of luxury fashion in flamboyant and totally unexpected ways.
When Day opened his Harlem boutique in 1982, hip-hop was just beginning to flirt with the mainstream and an entire culture was being built around it. Day’s early designs—one of his trademark moves was turning en-vogue logos (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi) into patterned looks—helped define that era of rapper chic. For ten years, his jackets and tracksuits graced the backs of music royalty—Eric B. and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and LL Cool J were all frequent patrons. The labels from whom he was poaching, however, were less than enamored with his high-end knockoffs, and when the lawyers came calling, Day closed up shop.
Day may have gone largely under the radar, but his outsize designs live on. Thirty years later, they reappeared in Gucci’s 2018 resort show, in the form of a fur-lined, balloon-sleeve bomber jacket nearly identical to the one that Day made for Olympic track star Diane Dixon in 1989.