Around the World
with Pitti
Edition 98
Harlem couturier Dapper Dan made his name in the late 80s and 90s, providing signature outfits to street hustlers, athletes, and rappers. With a client list that included the likes of LL Cool J and Mike Tyson, Dapper Dan’s reworking of allover prints by brands such as Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton, made him a celebrity and cultural icon. His sought after made-to-order designs became the talk of NY, and soon the world.

After a lawsuit claiming he had violated brands’ trademarks, and a subsequent raid on his boutique led by Fendi, he shut down the original Dapper Dan’s Boutique. Fast forward to 2018 - Gucci partnered up with Dap on a capsule collection inspired by his archive, and he eventually became the face of a #GucciTailoring campaign. Gucci also partnered with Dap to open an invitation-only atelier, with Gucci supplying fabrics for his new creations.

We spoke to Dap about his original boutique, what he loves about his hometown of Harlem, and plans for the future.

What do you love about the city?


What area do you find yourself in the most and why?

Harlem, because it’s the Mecca of Black fashion and music.  

How would you describe people’s personal style? 

Gaudy and free-spirited. 

Favourite restaurant and why?

Sylvia’s, because it’s the most popular Soul Food restaurant in the world and because I grew up with Sylvia’s son Van.

Where do you go to feel inspired?

When I need to feel inspired I like to walk through Harlem. I like to walk through Spanish Harlem, Dominican Harlem, African Harlem, and Mexican Harlem.

What is your day to day like at the moment?

I spend much of my day researching fashion news and technological advances in the fashion industry. 

Are there any artists (photographers, painters, sculptors etc) that we should check out?

An artist that has piqued my interest as of late, because of what I’m currently working on, is photographer James Van Der Zee. He is noted for his portraits of Black New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. My interests today are about grasping and conveying the history of Harlem.

Who is your favorite music artist and what do you like about their personal style?

John Coltrane is my favorite artist. My passion for aesthetics is when it leads to spiritual platforms, and that’s what he does for me.  

How would you describe the creative community?

I would describe the creative community in three words. 
Residual. I find that residual creativity is abundant among young people. Young guys come up to me all the time with their own ideas that they utilize, completely from inside their minds.
Tidal. Like how the tide comes in and out of the ocean. Tidal creativity is for people who create and get inspired from the outside. They look for ideas outside themselves that they extract as well as things from inside themselves, completely their own ideas but also incorporating outside ideas. 
Collaborative. Collaboration is what has kept me relevant for the last 30 or 40 years. Every person I have ever dressed, I’ve always collaborated with. I always find out: how do they feel about themselves? How do they feel about the culture right now? How do they want to look? And that’s my inspiration and my approach to fashion and creativity.

How has the pandemic affected your creative process?

It limited human contact and my ability to interact with people, and that always slows me down, in terms of being creative

Who would you love to collaborate with and why?

Virgil Abloh. The reason being is because I think that the community of color needs heroes. I think he and I collaborating together could give them a collective platform of heroes that they can aspire to be like.

What are you excited about at the moment?

Curating art shows.

What are you working on at the moment?

Part II of my memoir.

Pre-pandemic, how did the 80s NY compare to the late 00s NY?

The 80s was an organic moment in time, the 2000s was a period of borrowed ideas.

What do you miss about your original 80s boutique?

The spontaneous attachment to so many new ideas.

Can you describe what the energy was like around that time?

In one word: Revolutionary. In music, as well as in fashion.

What was the wildest/most interesting thing you saw?

Mike Tyson having a street fight with Mitch Green at my original boutique in 1988.

Your store was open 24/7, what fueled your creative hunger at the time?

The originality of ideas.

What creative challenges do you have now, compared to when you had your original boutique?

When I had my original boutique, I was translating African American culture and interpreting that through of all the luxury brands. Today, I’m only interpreting one brand, Gucci.

What’s next for you?