Dapper Dan Talks Current State of Fashion and how Hip Hop Artists can Help Elevate Black Designers

On the heels on Fashion Month ending we’re now able to sit back and reflect on the the number of Black designers we did not see present a collection. Putting on a show, presentation, or showroom appointment for any designer is not an easy task, particularly not for Black designers. They face every obstacle you can imagine, including sparse financial backing, no mentorship, and most start out having to do everything themselves. Dapper Dan, the God Father of Harlem and all things Black in Fashion has cracked the code on what needs to be done to elevate and support Black designers still in the emerging phases. It’s a truth that many have thought but never said out loud, let alone online, but Dapper Dan being Dapper Dan has decided to speak up and out for these designers and put out a call to action to Hip Hop.

“ Our musicians,” according to Dan, “not intentionally but incidentally have abandoned us. Black designers are not going anywhere without the musicians.” 

Dapper Dan’s hope is that we can “mix the fashion with the music” and change the current state of both the fashion and music industries. Below he shares his thoughts on what he feels the current state of fashion is in, if the fashion industry has truly embraced Hip Hop, and his wishlist for his next collaboration.

Can you describe the current state of fashion in one word? 
Dapper Dan: “Divided”. As I reflect on fashion, I have to reflect on it as a Black man, I can’t think other than being a black man, no matter what I say I’m reflecting as a Black man. As a black man what do I think about fashion? It’s still divided.

Dapper Dan attends The Fifteen Percent Pledge Benefit Gala at New York Public Library. Image: Taylor Hill/WireImage for Getty Images

Over the past few years we’ve seen a number of emerging Black designers popping up. What other areas of the industry do you think still needs work and why?
The most critical areas are the ones that are really suffering the most right now. I noticed that a lot of the big brands have cut back and hiring people or for diversity and inclusion. I think the most important thing right now that we need to work on more than anything else is fulfilling those roles. Brands seem to think that it’s not necessary anymore. 

How do you feel about this fashion month? What’d you like, love and hate? 
I think the most significant event this season was the Emerge fashion show. There, you’ll see those untapped designers that you may or may not have known about who deserve a platform. See, the beauty of Emerge is a complete reflection of the up and coming designers, I like it.

If you were a new designer releasing designs in the age of the internet and social media how would you go about branding yourself and getting your name out there?
One of my sayings is “ You have to build a man before you can build the brand”. A Black designer within themselves has to have strong character all while showing us who they are and what they are. When people believe in you, the way they see you changes. If you give them a reason to believe in you they’ll want to be a part of whatever you’re doing. You can’t start with a design, eventually, if you want to be effective, you have to start with who you are and your messaging which is a part of your story. 

Do you feel like the fashion industry truly embraced Hip Hop or just saw it as a money grab? Is it exploitation or celebration of the culture?
Over the years prior to hip hop, we’ve had breakthroughs and I don’t want to leave anybody out. We’ve had amazing designers that came along before hip hop. All of the Black designers were breakthroughs, you know, because our presence was in there and that was significant. The difference with hip hop is then it wasn’t a breakthrough it was an outbreak. They had no choice but to embrace us, we were everywhere. It was an outbreak of our culture and they could not immunize themselves against it. They had to follow some kind of therapy to allow us for them to coexist with it. Where we are now they haven’t able to escape us because the music did it, it took us global. Along with music came social media it made us able to exist everywhere and made them have to come to us. 

Young designers and all designers need to understand that the age of the breakthroughs is over, this is the outbreak, and now that there’s an outbreak and  we’re everywhere we have to understand what we need to do. The key to taking charge and winning the war is a combination of a good designing, a good creative flow, and musicians. The artists are the bridge between designers and the audience, the consumers. 

Dapper Dan signs autographs during Dapper Dan and Gap “DAP GAP” collaboration launch. Image: Johnny Nunez/WireImage for Getty Images

You’ve collaborated with brands like Gucci, Gap and Puma. What’s one fashion brand that you on your collaboration wish list?
After Gucci, the only two that I feel closest to us and closest to having what I would need to reflect on, on how culture Gucci is number one. Versace would be number two. I like a brand that’s willing to take chances and go after culture. For me, it’s more than just a partnership or collaboration it’s the ability to change history. 

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Updated: October 12, 2023 — 12:02 pm