On the subject of his personal fashion influence, the 74-year-old designer discussed his rise to fame as one of Harlem’s most popular fashion figures whose influence can be felt in hip-hop culture and beyond, and why he ended up linking with Gucci after the company was called out for seemingly knocking off his designs. According to Dan, Gucci did for him what other copycat brands wouldn’t do.
“Gucci comes and they say everybody’s paying homage to Dapper Dan but nobody’s paying him. We gon’ change that. We gon’ allow you to do what you’ve always done in Harlem and we’re going to do a partnership and you get a percentage of that globally,” he explained. “I could never get that. That’s my foothold.”
Speaking on the most recent Gucci boycott, which was spawned a by sweater design resembling blackface and championed by T.I. and Spike Lee, Dan surmised that black consumers gained nothing from speaking out against the company.
“Don’t tell me there’s any organization in the world that don’t have a number of people who are racist because we don’t hear them say it, that don’t mean it ain’t happening,” he began. “So forget that part, let’s look at what can we get out of this? This will be the first boycott black people have ever had in America that we get zero results. That is too damn stupid. You walk away because you’re insulted and you end up with zero? You can’t be no hero like that.”
While speaking on the boycott, Dan mentioned Gucci’s Change Makers Program, which was announced earlier this year amid growing backlash. He went on to share a theory about why black-owned brands aren’t placed on the same level as Gucci and other European luxury designers, and what drives consumers to pricey products.
“It’s what I call the pimp program. When you see a pimp he’s all dressed up, fly, he’s more attractive. People want what they can’t get. The mentality associated with luxury, with aspiration, has to do with things people cant afford.”
On the topic of why black people put more value on Gucci than black-owned brands he added, “Our culture is very powerful so if we want a luxury brand we have to have distribution that’s powerful enough that we can get our brands in [other] countries.”
As for black consumers putting more value on white-owed brands he replied, “That’s an individual choice but I’m not going after what we buy. I’m not going to argue with black people in Harlem or [anywhere in] the U.S., about whether you want to buy luxury. No! Our culture is so powerful and selling around the world, I want to get to where they selling it at.
“We are the influencers and our ability to influence goes around the world,” Dan continued. “I’m not just concentrating on just getting this black money here. Why I can’t get that global money if I [have] that global culture?”
When asked if he could have used his influence to transform Sean Jean, Phat Farm and other black-owned fashion companies into internationally dominate brands he noted that he’s always “thinking global” but pointed out that he didn’t have the capital. “If we [black people] had a sustainable economy that can support a luxury brand I wouldn’t have to be here.”
Dan also spoke about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, his travels to Africa, and stressed the need for black people in fashion to “learn about the dynamics” of larger brands “so we can later run these businesses and these businesses are able to sustain themselves.”
Watch the full interview below.