Photo: Noam Galai (Getty Images)
The Glow Up 50: Meet the Pioneers of StyleThe Glow Up 50: Meet the Pioneers of StyleOur annual celebration of the black tastemakers, trendsetters and innovators elevating the world of style.

The category is: Icon. There are designers, there are influencers, there are activists...and then, there are changemakers. The innovative couturier fondly known as Dapper Dan is all that and more. Like Madam C.J. Walker, the historic black icon and heroine of Netflix’s upcoming series Self Made, Dapper Dan’s enterprising genius and ingenuity propelled him from self-proclaimed hustler to the helm of his own luxury label. Currently inspiring a new generation through his partnership with Gucci, he continues to pay it forward, helping to educate, mentor and create opportunities for talents with backgrounds as humble as his own to reach the highest echelons of the fashion industry.

For his talent, tenacity, and ongoing impact, Dapper Dan is the recipient of “The Dap Award,” The Glow Up 50's inaugural lifetime achievement award, henceforth named in his honor.


Dapper Dan, Designer, Author, Advocate

Illustration for article titled TGU50: The Dap Award
Screenshot: Mamadi Doumbouya (Instagram)

Dapper Dan is at the forefront of the 21st-century Harlem Renaissance. From humble beginnings, the veteran designer and bestselling author has become one of the world’s preeminent experts on art, culture and fashion.

Born Daniel Day, the world-renowned designer known as Dapper Dan is the quintessential (Harlem) renaissance man. Born into poverty in New York City in 1944, Day rapidly learned the art of hustling in the Harlem streets—and that wasn’t a bad thing. After abandoning a burgeoning career as a journalist, Day’s relentless grind made him a successful retailer and self-taught designer during the 1980s and ‘90s. His custom “knock-ups” distinguished him as a pioneer as his merging of street style with logo-driven luxury aesthetics had well-known celebrities and notorious clientele alike knocking down his door.

Threatened by his success, luxury brands shut down his successful independent enterprise in the early ‘90s, forcing Day’s genius underground. But over two decades later, karma came calling when Black Twitter gathered Gucci for committing the ultimate no-no—regurgitating Day’s designs on the runway in “homage” to his epochal digs. In response to the call-out, the Italian fashion house did right by the innovative designer, reviving the 75-year-old haberdasher’s brand via an unprecedented partnership, bankrolling an atelier in Day’s beloved Harlem which opened in 2018. It was a renaissance in the truest sense, one that both introduced the Dapper Dan aesthetic to a new generation and allowed him the platform to tell the story of his incredible but still evolving journey.

In 2019, Day experienced another full-circle moment, returning to his writing roots to publish Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir, a revealing and self-effacing look at the man behind Dapper Dan. Among the book’s revelations were Day’s profound activism and the pan-African consciousness and aesthetic he gleaned during travels to the continent in the 1970s. That consciousness, along with Day’s commitment to uplifting and investing in marginalized communities, came in handy when the designer stepped in to help Gucci navigate a racially-charged scandal in late 2018. As the company worked to restore faith in its following, Day not only advised the label’s leadership but used his reputation and reach to help assemble a diverse coalition of fashion insider and influencers for its Changemakers initiative.

Since its official launch in late January, the five-year Gucci North America Changemakers Impact Fund has already granted $1 million to organizations for underserved communities across America. Additionally, the coalition is creating scholarships and mentorships to help a more diverse pool of creative talent gain access and exposure to the fashion industry; an initiative that will hopefully foster more of the type of genius, ingenuity and innovation Dapper Dan continues to share with the world.

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The Glow Up 50 is presented by Self Made: Inspired by the Life Madam C.J. Walker. Watch Self Made on March 20, only on Netflix.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, an avid eyeshadow enthusiast and always her own muse. Nuance is her superpower.

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