Hip Hop to High End: The Bridges Built by Dapper Dan

Cultural Analysis

Originally Published April 17, 2020

Today I am going to take you guys back to a time that many people don’t always like to remember but this era was a big moment for streetwear, the 80s. However, when I say 80s, I’m talking specifically about 1987 thru the early 90s. The designer I will be talking about is Dapper Dan, he was an influential designer introducing high end fashion to the world of hip hop but also showing the fashion industry what they were missing out on. The design I will specifically be talking about is a red leather bomber jacket with silk lining which was made in 1988. The outside detailing has Gucci logo prints on front and back yoke of the jacket as well as the white detailed stripes on the front, cuffs and the iconic red and green logo horizontally across the back. This garment holds much history because during this time streetwear was boxed in and not very popular especially when it came to even consider mixing high end with streetwear.

Dapper Dan was a custom designer who was known as the king of style, defining the era of 1982-1993. He was the bridge between how high fashion made its way to hip hop culture. High end fashion only being an unobtainable world for people of color, the hip hop world, and people who just could not reach that culture of fashion. All of Dapper Dan’s designs were primarily created using silks, leather, exotic skins or furs. From there he would then print certain high end brand logos on these fabrics (depending on the client) and then continue to create his designs. The reason he did this was for the for the purpose of inclusiveness which I will continue to talk about later.

Before we get into the details of this piece the first thing I’ll say is that all the fabric was originally plain which he then printed the Gucci logo for certain details of the jacket. Now looking at this piece as a whole, your eye is caught first by the red and white colors and the statement detail of having the Gucci logo on the back. Having the logo in the placement that it is in suggest that this garment was a prideful piece in the sense of being able to have a Gucci jacket that’s never been made like this before and being able to proudly show off the logo on the jacket. In other words, flexing the brand because of the value that these high end fashion houses held.

The silhouette of the jacket suggest that it’s made to be worn over sized at the body of the jacket, but custom to fit the wearer around the cuffs. The silk lining against the outer leather shell of the jacket indicates the high quality of what the value of this jacket held. The color coordination as well as the vibrancy of the colors show how this was something that was a statement piece, how fresh you were. To top it off, the monogram print of the logo was big considering how unreachable these brands were at the time. Being seen in a design like this was probably your most valuable and pride piece to own in this era. Overall, this jacket was a statement of the personality of the wearer as well as a sense of value and pride.

During this time high end fashion was an unreachable place for people in the; Black communities, middle/lower status, high end fashion was only but a dream. Brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi were not a world of which Hip Hop/Rap culture were familiar with. Dapper Dan was able to make these brands start to be more accessible for the culture while still putting his own spin on it.

These big brands were not thinking of audiences like rappers/black artists as potential customers. Monogram textile was something Dapper Dan made cool by printing these logos on different fabrics and creating fresh pieces like this one. Now because of doing this he was able to make these brands become more reachable for the people that were not able to obtain it before.

Adding these monograms on the fabric was what made the personality to the piece, if you imagine this jacket without its Gucci logos then you just see a plain red and white bomber jacket. The era of streetwear now is really all about that name brand and if you can afford it but pieces like this made by Dapper Dan really showed the inclusiveness being held between these two worlds. High end brands never even thought of these African American celebrities or this culture of people to be what could really help change and innovate their brand for the better. What Dapper Dan was doing by using these brand logos was then showing the high end fashion world that by them not seeing this culture of people as potential customers they were only limiting their potential growth as a brand and were just stuck in a tunnel vision.

This eventually changed because, starting in the mid 90s all the way through the early 2000s, designers started to see how having stars like Aaliyah, TLC, and many others wearing their designs could help with their brand. From there the streetwear culture was born with the baggy silhouettes, some fitted silhouettes, vibrancy in colors and patterns especially monogram or just having your brand name somewhere on your designs all became very popular with many different designers. Dapper Dan held a very special place in streetwear history and even now you can still see his influence. Garments like this one were all about the personality of the wearer and brought out the style of what kind of person that client was. This piece showed evidence in showcasing the value of where these high end brands stood but how the gates could be broken. This enabled the individualistic aspect of style to shine through, showing the attention to detail and personal style for this piece overall.

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