It’s easy to look at people at the top of the fashion industry and forget what it took to get there.
Just ask Dapper Dan, the luxury streetwear designer who has worked with Gucci and has outfitted celebrities like Beyonce and Jay-Z. He got his start as a designer in the streets of Harlem, New York, creating pieces that utilized logos and materials from major luxury brands. After years of being shut down, Dapper Dan ultimately partnered with Gucci in 2017 and was given the creative license to continue his design process with the brand’s seal of approval.
“I can tell you what the top looks like,” said Dapper Dan at a keynote session at the Magic and Project Las Vegas trade shows on Monday morning. “I can tell you what the bottom looks like, but I can’t tell you what the middle looks like because I came up a Black staircase.“
In a conversation with journalist and “Project Runway” judge Elaine Welteroth, Dapper Dan spoke about his path in design and the importance of discussing the harder parts of these journeys, especially for people of color.
“We’re familiar with the Virgils, the André Leon Talleys,” said Welteroth, describing the two legendary Black fashion icons who passed away in recent months. “We see people who made it to the top, but the majority of people are in the middle somewhere trying to figure out how to move their brand to the top.”
As Dapper Dan put it, the best way to honor these fashion legends is to understand the struggles they faced along the way.
“It’s not the accomplishments that’s the big picture,” Dapper Dan told FN. “It’s the trials and tribulations.”
Welteroth, who served as Teen Vogue’s first-ever Black editor-in-chief, said her book, “More Than Enough,” discusses details in her journey of getting to where she is today.
“I felt like it was important as a young editor who found myself in this very rarefied position, as a Black woman in particular, to tell the story of the how and why behind what you what you see,” Welteroth said.
Once in a position of leadership, Welteroth said it was important to have authentic conversations about culture and identity on the road to success. She gave the example of publishing a story about her natural hair journey as a Black woman. This personal story resonated with audiences and proved to Welteroth that they wanted to see more authentic content.
For brands, staying in tune with what an audience wants to hear is also essential — and a major part of Dapper Dan’s philosophy in design as well.
“I do not dictate fashion,” the designer said, discussing the importance of keeping a pulse on popular trends and the wants of the consumer. “I transmit culture.”
To stay on top of some of these cultural changes, Dapper Dan said he still takes two buses and walks three blocks to his store in Harlem, standing on the corner to greet and speak to the people in the neighborhood.
“I don’t want to lose that magic,” he said. “Even the people who can’t afford what I sell, I want them to know that they can afford me. They can have part of me.”