Who Is Dapper Dan? New Details On The 'Project Runway' Judge

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Who Is Dapper Dan? New Details On The 'Project Runway' Judge

The 17th season of Project Runway premiered on March 14th and since then, we’ve seen four designers go home. With 12 contestants remaining, these designers have been tasked with creating unique clothing, accessories, and making themselves stand out from the rest of the competition.

With judges Karlie Kloss, Elaine Welteroth, and Brandon Maxwell being added to the panel, and mentor Christian Siriano working closely with the designers, we will continue to see captivating, fresh, and individual pieces. The prizes this season are even crazier: $250,000, a feature in Elle magazine, $50,000 for the designers to put towards their own studio, and a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

But what’s even cooler is all the guests that appear on the series. And so far, we’ve been introduced to celebrity stylist Marni Senofonte, and fashion trailblazer Dapper Dan.

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Just who is Dapper Dan? There are quite a few things to know about this legend.

1. He’s from Harlem.

Born Daniel Day, he was born in Harlem, New York in 1944 and grew up with three brothers and three sisters. Growing up poor sparked an interest in clothes, and he’d use pieces of linoleum to cover the holes in his shoes.

But by the time he was a teenager, he was a master at shoplifting and used these means to create his own unique style. He also dropped out of school, never realizing he could have pursued a degree in fashion.

2. He became a professional gambler.

In the 1970s, Day mastered all the tricks and used his father, brothers, and cousins as a source of knowledge as they were “hustlers.”

According to him, “I had that salesman’s personality. I knew how to generate excitement. Plus I could dance and dress.” And looking good was part of his strategy to outwit the competition: “They want to win me — I want to win money. That’s the difference.”

3. He eventually decided to become a clothier.

He initially did so by selling shoplifted items out of his car. But he used his winnings from gambling to finance his first store. He was also able to save himself and joined Urban League, a program whose mission was to “instill pride and discipline in wayward young black and Latino men by sending them to Africa for the summer.”

On his trip to Africa, “Day was struck by President Julius Nyerere’s efforts at black economic empowerment,” and was also inspired by Africa’s traditions, politics, and culture. Years later, he returned to Africa, trading his belongings for carvings and paintings, and befriending a tailor. The tailor made him unique and custom outfits: dashikis and leisure suits, all cut from local fabrics.

4. Then, he transitioned to hip-hop fashion.

Though he wanted to be a clothing wholesaler, he found it difficult to buy textiles and furs for his creations, as most companies were prejudiced because of his race or his location in Harlem. It was then that he taught himself about the fashion industry to create his designs from scratch. He taught himself textile printing, and invented a new process for screen printing into leather; later, he’d design jewelry and car interiors.

In 1985, he made his move to hip-hop fashion, creating “streetwear” and basing the look off of Rat Pack icons (like Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra). He had many clients at the time, including drug kingpin Alpo Martinez, and LL Cool J. He created looks for The Fat Boys, Bobby Brown, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, and Salt-N-Pepa.

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5. He opened his first store in the 1980s.

His store, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, opened in 1982, and was located on 125th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. It operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week! Day also employed Senegalese individuals to sew his work and within a week, “the boutique was beginning its transformation into a full-service factory.”

Day began to line his leather jackets with fur. “That was, like, a white-boy thing, that fur inside. I started putting it outside — inside and outside, so you could reverse it,” he recalled. He’d then use designer-leather trim on generic pieces of clothing. That’s when he started using logo patterns on garments.

But his illegal use of logos, primarily from other fashion designers like Gucci and Fendi, landed him in hot water. In 1992, after Mike Tyson was photographed wearing one of the “knock-off” Fendi jackets from Day’s store, this led to counterfeiting raids. U.S. Attorney Sonia Sotomayor sought legal action and the store was shut down for good.

To Day, he wasn’t parodying brands, but paying homage to them. He was eventually sued by almost all the companies whose logos he used, and he was shunned by mainstream fashion for decades. He continued to work as an “underground” designer.

6. But he made a comeback.

In the 2010s, his career began to turn back around. And in 2017, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, designed a jacket based on Day’s designs. That same year, Gucci and Day partnered for a line of men’s wear.

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In a piece in the New York Times, Day said, “We created this universe of culture that came out of Harlem, and it was parallel to this universe that was coming out of Europe. And then this amazing man comes along, Alessandro Michele, and because of him, because of his appreciation of culture and of everybody’s contribution to culture, he made it possible for these parallel universes to come together. Gucci took it to the 23rd century.”

He also opened a new workshop on Lenox Avenue as part of the partnership, and which is the first luxury house fashion store in Harlem.

7. He has a memoir in the works.

The memoir, published by Random House, is set to come out this year. There’s also a film adaptation in talks, with Sony pictures buying the rights. Jerrod Carmichael is listed as the screenwriter and producer, and Day will be an executive producer.

8. He appeared on Project Runway.

Dapper Dan appeared on episode 5 of Project Runway, with multiple designers shocked and excited to meet this legend who revolutionized hip-hop fashion. The designers were asked to create a “fresh version of luxury streetwear.” Though he wasn’t a guest judge, he toured the studio and gave the contestants feedback.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.