In the late 1980s, hip hop was in a transitional phase, leaving disco beats and party tracks behind in favor of drum samples and rhymes with a hard edge or an experimental flair. Eric B. & Rakim helped lead the way on that front with their classic 1987 album, Paid In Full. They appeared on the iconic cover of that album in custom Gucci jackets like no one had seen before.
The styling was provided by Dapper Dan, the Harlem designer who outfitted rappers, pro athletes, celebrities, and a few infamous drug dealers during the 80s and 90s. His clothing was truly unique, yet not totally original. He created hybrids that purported to be designer fashion but were infused with his own brazen style. Kelefa Sanneh, staff writer of The New Yorker, joins us to discuss Dapper Dan's influence on hip hop.
On Dapper Dan’s entry into mainstream consciousness via Eric B. & Rakim:
“The first place I ever saw work was on album covers. He created some amazing custom Gucci jackets that were worn on the front cover of the first two Eric B. & Rakim records. Paid in Full is the first one and Follow the Leader is the second one. These were Gucci jackets that look like no Gucci jackets you've ever seen. And in fact, they look like no Gucci jackets that anyone at Gucci had ever seen.”
On Dapper Dan’s influence during a turning point for hip hop fashion in the late 1980s:
“People haven’t really figured out exactly what the next look would be. Is it jean jackets? Is it 1970s-style fur coats? It’s not exactly clear. And this album, along with some others, helped kind of create this new aesthetic.... It’s incredibly brash. It’s gesturing toward high fashion, but as a number of us would come to discover, these weren't coats that actually came from the world of high fashion. They came from the world and from the mind of a guy named Dapper Dan.”
On Dapper Dan’s work process:
“He would go to the Gucci store and buy a garment bag because that was sort of the thing you could buy for the cheapest that had the most leather in it. And he’d buy a Gucci print leather garment big, and then he would sort of cut strips of fabric out of the garment bag and use it to form the yolks for a jacket. And he would sort of build a jacket around these strips of genuine Gucci leather. And after a few years he discovers a way to silkscreen brand name logo patterns onto leather in a way where it would stay. And once he started doing that, all of a sudden he had an infinite supply of brand name leather.”
On Dapper Dan’s hip hop legacy:
“There is this real tension in hip hop — and I think in most creative fields — between wanting to pay homage to the great, authentic stuff of the past and wanting to create something new. And for a while, when Dapper Dan is making these jackets, in a way he’s doing both at once. He’s building you a jacket that doesn't look like anything that Gucci would make, doesn't look like anything that would come from the Gucci store. And so in a sense, it’s both, right? It’s new because of the way he’s built it, but it somehow seems to be part of this lineage of old world European luxury even though it’s not legally related to these European companies.”