Dapper Dan becomes first Black designer to receive this lifetime achievement award

Francis Akhalbey September 20, 2021
Dapper Dan will be honored with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award -- Photo via @dapperdanharlem on Instagram

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) on Wednesday announced they would be honoring pioneering streetwear connoisseur Dapper Dan with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s event.

The 77-year-old Harlem native will become the first designer who has never hosted a solo fashion show to be presented the prestigious award, Complex reported. Responding to the honor on Instagram, the designer, born Daniel Day, expressed gratitude to the CFDA as well as the place of his birth.

“Isn’t it ironic how the fashion world says that Dapper Dan won the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, without ever having a runway show?” he posted.

“The streets of Harlem have been my runway for 35 years. Isn’t that where the major luxury brands got their inspiration from? Maybe logo-mania is an illusion. Thank you Harlem, I love you! Thank you to the CFDA for making me the first black designer to win this lifetime achievement award.”

The Black designer’s career saw a resurgence in 2017 in what did not seem possible about three decades ago after initially losing everything. Dan was inspired to pursue fashion following a trip to Africa at the end of the 1960s through to the beginning of the 70s. He visited the continent as part of a Columbia University and Urban League apprenticeship program, Face2Face Africa reported.

In his Made in Harlem memoir, Dan wrote that these apprenticeships helped shape his perspective on fashion as well as his understanding of the world. And when he returned to New York in 1974, Dan was a changed man. He had given up on alcohol, smoking, drugs and had also become a vegetarian. The only thing on his mind was to be a clothier.

His clientele in the mid and late 1980s were rappers as hip-hop culture had been birthed at that time. Thus, among African-American youth in underprivileged areas, Dan became popular. His clothes were known as knock-ups instead of knock-offs. The people appreciated that although he was not making legitimately branded goods, his designs were top-notch.

And it did not take long until Dan could count KRS-One, Salt-N-Pepa, Bobby Brown, Jam Master Jay and others among his patrons.

But one of such big-name clients, a certain young boxer by the name of Mike Tyson, would inadvertently cause the demise of Dan’s dreams. Photographs of a fight involving Tyson caught the fighter in a counterfeit Fendi jacket around Dan’s store.

What happened afterward saw Dan’s store being shut down so that he had to work in shame as an “underground” tailor in 1992. The luxury brands he was counterfeiting made sure of that.

In 2017, Gucci reacted to backlash from fashion observers who noted that the company had copied a signature Dapper Dan design from 1989. The concept had been used by Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. The company partnered with Dan, opening a men’s line with him. In 2018, Dan added a store in his neighborhood of Harlem, making it the first luxury store in the area.

“Harnessing the Dapper Dan brand to Gucci, mounted it on a global track, now the whole world knows what Harlem always knew, that the Dapper Dan brand is a thoroughbred brand,” the veteran designer added in his post.

This year’s CFDA Awards will be held in New York City on November 10.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 20, 2021


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