A collaboration to cover their obvious plagiarism mistake backfires after their release of the blackface sweater, which has lead many to question Alessandro Michele’s motives and genuineness.
After Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Gucci sued Dapper Dan out of business, resulting in the closing of his Harlem based boutique, and Gucci receiving backlash for crossing the thin line between copying and classifying it as ‘inspiration;’ the pair ironically teamed up for a collaboration in 2018.
Born and raised in New York, Daniel Day, who now professionally goes by Dapper Dan begun selling stolen clothes from the boot of his car.
A desire to pursue a career as a clothing wholesaler began to grow in Dan, but he was faced with many obstacles.
After realising that businesses were turning him down because of his race and the derelict, dangerous scenes of where he lived, he took it upon himself to create bootleg fabrics by learning textile printing.
Desperately wanting to bring high fashion to Hip-Hop and make it accessible to the community of Harlem, Dan started out by knocking off luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and predominantly Gucci; catching the attention of rappers along the way and even the notorious drug kingpin, Alpo Martinez, who would often flaunt in custom high-end labels.
Notable for revamping and ‘pimping’ interiors of luxury cars, Dan developed a new process which enabled screen printing onto leather.
With his gambling money saved up since his teenage years, Madison and Fifth Avenues made way for the opening of Dapper Dan’s boutique in 1982. However, his pride and joy were short-lived.
As his clientage boomed and his name spread more in the media as well as the streets, The New York Times raised awareness to European luxury fashion houses on the unapproved, counterfeit logos. After repeatedly being bashed, disparaged and tugged down with litigations from Gucci, Fendi and Louis, Dan was forced to shut down his store after a decade of standing. Despite having continued his work underground, it was not until Gucci’s hiccup in its 2018 Cruise collection that unintentionally helped to revive Dapper Dan’s name and reopen his atelier.
25 years on from the lawsuits Daniel Day had to face, Alessandro Michele sunk himself into a deep hole with his juvenile error. The 2018 Gucci cruise referenced one of Dan’s most prominent 80s archive pieces worn by Diane Dixon (1984’s Olympic’s gold medalist) who posed in the infamous mink coat featuring Louis Vuitton monogrammed puff sleeves. Hoping that this slip-up would go unnoticed and quietly fade, it was not long until Gucci had to face media scrutiny for being accused of copying one of Dapper Dan’s most famous designs (which Beyonce would, later on, be seen sporting .)
With demands of Dan receiving the credit he deserved from Diane with also the large support of the Twitter community, Alessandro responded to the backlash by attempting to justify his ignorant mistake as wanting to pay ‘homage’- yet this was the only look out of the other 108 designs which strongly reflected the Harlem-based designer’s style.
Ripping off from younger, emerging designers is nothing new. Chanel’s Pre-Fall 2016 collection raised eyebrows and outrage sparked over Moschino’s SS19 show.
In Gucci’s case, not only were they declared guilty of plagiarizing from a designer whose name is well-known in America, but of cultural appropriation as well.
As anger from the media begun to simmer and a couple months passed, lo and behold, an expected collaboration between the two – The Gucci x Dapper Dan collaboration.
It appeared that Gucci felt as if its collaboration with Dapper Dan did not receive enough media attention as it would have liked to.
Rather than bringing originality to the table, it seems that being controversial is more important and the easier option to stay relevant in the tabloids today.
After Prada’s blackface figurines incident, one would have believed that Gucci would be more attentive and sensitive towards the release of their newest collection- yet that was far from the case.
The infamous blackface sweater strongly resembling ‘Smoking Sambo’ caused an uproar of mixed emotions, particularly because of its release during Black History Month. Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff was one among many others on Twitter to share her frustration.
“How does this keep happening with supposedly ‘luxury’ brands? No-one at Gucci clocked the similarity between the racist imagery of their $890 blackface jumper and Prada‘s keychain – the latter of which was pulled from stores less than two months ago? Or do they just not care?”
Another high-fashion label to go in the history of ‘fashion’s faux-pas’ books alongside Chanel.
Whilst rappers such as T.I, Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka Flame have taken a stance on boycotting the Italian fashion powerhouse, the 74-year-old designer chose to take a different approach. Frustrated and disappointed, Dan was quick to address this issue on his Instagram page as he strongly voiced that he is a black man before he is a brand and that, “another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong.”
In wake of Gucci’s inexcusable mistake, they have since announced a ‘long-term diversity and inclusion and action plan’ with Gucci changemakers (a community fund and scholarship program for North America) which promises to improve diversity within its company.
Despite a rollercoaster journey between the two, Dapper Dan is striving towards ensuring that the industry is educated on knowing the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, so that incidents of great multitude such as this one are prevented in the future.