Dapper Dan on Harlem, Gucci and hip-hop : The Limits with Jay Williams On today's episode of The Limits, Jay talks to legendary fashion designer, Dapper Dan. For over five decades, "Dap" has revolutionized the way hip-hop and fashion have influenced each other, dressing the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa. He also always makes sure everything goes down in his native Harlem, where Jay met up with him.

Once a gambling prodigy, Dap briefly went to prison on drug charges, but he came out with a renewed respect for Black culture and sensibilities. He started dressing gangsters and hustlers, and gained popularity for repurposing the logos of brands like Gucci for hip-hop icons.

When the FBI came after his namesake Harlem store, it seemed like Dap would have to shut down for good. But he remained a cultural fixture, and in one of life's great ironies, built a new chapter in his career in a 2017 partnership with Gucci.

At 77, Dap thinks like a historian, relating everything he has made to the musical and cultural movements of the time. He tells Jay how Harlem has evolved, how he's managed to always look forward, and who he sees as this generation's successor to his vision.

For sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more, subscribe to The Limits Plus at plus.npr.org/thelimits. This week, Dap talks about the wisdom he imparts on Harlem youth today.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org. Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67046jn8010

Dapper Dan on hip-hop and fashion, Harlem history and constant reinvention

Dapper Dan on hip-hop and fashion, Harlem history and constant reinvention

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Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan. Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR hide caption

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Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR

Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan.

Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR

This is adapted from the latest episode of The Limits with Jay Williams. Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts, or get sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more with a subscription to The Limits+.

Jay Williams talks to legendary fashion designer, Dapper Dan. For over five decades, "Dap" has revolutionized the way hip-hop and fashion have influenced each other, dressing the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa. He also always makes sure everything goes down in his native Harlem, where Jay met up with him.

Once a gambling prodigy, Dap briefly went to prison on drug charges, but he came out with a renewed respect for Black culture and sensibilities. He started dressing gangsters and hustlers, and gained popularity for repurposing the logos of brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi for hip-hop icons.

When the brands and the FBI came after his namesake Harlem store, it seemed like Dap would have to shut down for good. But he remained a cultural fixture, and in one of life's great ironies, built a new chapter in his career in a 2017 partnership with Gucci.

At 77, Dap thinks like a historian, relating everything he has made to the musical and cultural movements of the time. He tells Jay how Harlem has evolved, how he's managed to always look forward, and who he sees as this generation's successor to his vision.

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On the music that was his early inspiration

During the sixties, there was a lot of revolution. It was a change in the music industry. You had the sound of Philadelphia and all that... Berry Gordy allowed the musicians to change the platform when he had Martin Gaye saying, "What's going on," you know what I mean? That shift, that philosophical shift for people of color made a big difference for us young guys... James Brown saying, "Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud." We don't have that today. We don't have a strong enough voice for that today.

On the FBI raid that shut down the Dapper Dan Boutique

They ended up litigating against me, and they took everything. Had I known all I needed to do was go downstairs in City Hall and examine the records, all I had to do [was] commit to, "Okay, I made a mistake. I'm sorry," and I could have paid the $5,000 fine. As opposed to that, I lost a quarter of a million dollars.

On whether he was angry the luxury houses that came after him started referencing his work in the 2000s

Your generation is the generation of expectation. My generation is the generation of, "It may not happen because they [are] blocking us." That's the difference. Y'all can expect [things] to happen because y'all [have] seen things happen. My generation, we didn't see nothing happen, not coming from our level. So your generation, and the generation's expectation, seeing everybody do everything- [you] saw a Black president and all of that- I ain't see that... So all my creative things, I didn't think I was gonna get credit for.

On building a brand that has lasted decades

I never allowed myself to get fixed in a certain identity. Every artist that came to me, and all my clients [that] came to me...I didn't create solely from myself... I looked at their lyrics. I looked at their lifestyle and the message they wanted to bring, and I created from that. So I became every artist. And throughout time, I kept dealing with different artists and representing what they wanted to say and how they wanted to look... So throughout my whole history of creating, I constantly adapted to the artists...So what I like to tell young people is, Dapper Dan does not dictate fashion. He translates culture because all these cultural icons that come along, I give them the look that goes with what they want to do.


For sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more, subscribe to The Limits Plus. This week, Dap talks about the wisdom he imparts on Harlem youth today.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.

The Limits is produced by Devan Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan, and Leena Sanzgiri. Our intern is Danielle Soto. Our Executive Producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams, and Yolanda Sangweni. Our Senior Vice-President of Programming and Audience Development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa, and Charla Riggi.