In May, at a cruise collection show in Florence, Italy, Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, sent out a mink jacket that was, in essence, a stitch-by-stitch remake of one Mr. Day had designed for (and in collaboration with) the Olympian Diane Dixon in 1989. The most significant change was that the Louis Vuitton-logo puff sleeves of the original had been converted into Gucci Gs.
It came as news to Mr. Day, who had not been consulted beforehand.
“I was very surprised,” he said in an interview at his Harlem brownstone. “Everyone was. It was a wild moment.” The jacket and his original were “very similar — unmistakably similar.”
Ms. Dixon put up a post on her Instagram comparing the two and demanding credit for Mr. Day. Twitter was quickly engulfed in fury of recriminations. An op-ed in Teen Vogue saw the move, its headline announced, as an example of “how the fashion industry fails black people.”
Vice accused the clothing label of “ruining culture.” Gucci quickly said that the piece was a riff on Mr. Day’s, and few of the critics were placated. Where Gucci claimed homage, others saw appropriation.
“For me, we can talk about appropriation a lot,” said Mr. Michele this week. “I didn’t put a caption on it because it was so clear. I wanted people to recognize Dapper on the catwalk. It wasn’t appropriation, it was a homage, to me.”
Mr. Michele did not label his homage to Dapper Dan, he said — just as he did not label his homages to Botticelli or Bronzino. Mr. Michele is an avid student of history, but also a gleeful and heretical mixologist of its disparate elements.
He considers, he said, Dapper Dan to be no different than any other artist in history. Nobody was surprised in the Renaissance, he pointed out, when Botticelli painted in the style of Ghirlandaio.
“I understand that I am putting my hands in a kind of very delicate playground, the black community,” Mr. Michele said. “But I love the black community. I think they have a big voice in terms of fashion.”
For his part, Mr. Day remained mostly silent on the issue. In a profile in The New York Times in June, he acknowledged that, after the fact, Gucci had made contact with him; they were “at the table,” he said. Now, after a trip that brought the entire Gucci design team to Harlem — “They sat on that very couch you’re sitting on,” Mr. Day said — a new partnership will begin.
Since the closure of his shop in 1992, Mr. Day had been, in his words, “underground,” occasionally designing for private customers including Floyd Mayweather Jr. (His memoir, due out in 2018, will shed more light on these years.)
But by the end of this year, he will open a second-generation Dapper Dan’s as a by-appointment studio for custom commissions, staffed, he hopes, with some of the original tailors, and sponsored (“powered,” in the company’s preferred term) by Gucci, which will now supply the raw materials.
What’s more, the two will collaborate on a capsule collection that will be produced and sold in Gucci stores worldwide next spring. Mr. Day himself is the model in Gucci’s new tailoring ad campaign, shot on the streets of Harlem, where he met Mr. Michele at last.
“The thing that’s amazing is, what’s being celebrated today was shut down,” said Stephen Stoute, the founder and chief executive of the marketing and branding firm Translation, who helped to facilitate the partnership between Dapper Dan and Gucci. “The couture guys were sitting in Italy, in Paris, deciding to shut it down, rather than embrace it. Now we look up in 2017, and Dan is the feature in their global advertising campaign. They’re releasing a collection that’s going to be in all locations around the world. We’re bringing Gucci to Harlem.”
Speaking now, Mr. Day acknowledged the controversy that had ensued.
“People were excited in a different way than I was,” he said. “I was just excited about it being there. The part about appropriation, Alessandro and I are part of two parallel universes. The magic that took place as a result of what he did was bringing these two parallel universes together. That opened a dialogue between us when we finally got in touch with each other. I found out how similar our experiences were, the way he grew up and the way I grew up, and how he was influenced by me. I was never apprehensive about what took place. The public was more up in arms than me.”
Mr. Day said he considered the Gucci jacket a homage. He never sought acceptance from the establishment fashion world, though he is also not without pique at those who have borrowed from his signature look, most often without credit, over the years.
“I’m trying to be very conservative about it,” he said. “I just don’t want to call it out. I promised my son I wouldn’t go ballistic.” That son is Jelani Day, who oversees his father’s business and publicity and maintains his archive as his brand manager.
“You have to understand, I was prepared to be copied from the time my store was first opened,” Mr. Day said. “My store first opened, and I couldn’t even get designer garments in there, nobody would sell to me. I’m talking 1982. This is 2017. That’s already behind me. The fact that it has to be two different worlds, I had already accepted that. I was just content with satisfying the people in my community.”
Mr. Day said he was confident that his fans would support the new partnership, given its scope.
“I would not submit to any collaboration that wasn’t on this level,” he said. “I think that would be doing a disservice to the culture that I am a part of to accept anything less than what Alessandro has offered me. I think it’s something that the younger people in my community could be very proud of.”
“We are recognizing the power of this work,” Mr. Michele said. “The message for me is that we have, in a way, recognized a huge piece of the history of the brand. It is the time to say that fashion is not just the windows of a Fifth Avenue store. It’s more. It’s about culture. It’s about self-expression. It’s about expression of a point of view.”
“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Day said. “What I’m most excited about is being able to work in the open.”
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