Back in May, during the Gucci Cruise 2018 show, hawk-eyed fashion enthusiasts noticed that among the maximalist rock 'n' roll Renaissance collection, one particular look – namely, a monogrammed puff-sleeve fur jacket – looked markedly similar to a creation by '80s Harlem designer, Dapper Dan, made for Olympic runner Diane Dixon. The observation quickly gathered momentum as many took to social media to call out Gucci's creative director, Alessandro Michele for plagiarism. Initially, Gucci remained silent but, as the backlash built up, the next day the Italian fashion house took to Instagram to defend Michele's designs, claiming that he had not plagiarised Dapper Dan and was instead paying homage to the hip-hop style icon. In the post, Michele explained: "Inside the #GucciCruise18 collection by #AlessandroMichele, a look that celebrates an iconic style of hip-hop fashion culture from the 80s—a plush jacket featuring puffy sleeves monogrammed in GG motif. Legendary tailor Dapper Dan @dapperdanharlem influenced the trend by making such custom pieces for his rapper and athlete clients out of logos from famous fashion houses, including #Gucci. In a homage to Dapper Dan, this jacket worn with jeans and a lurex headpiece is flanked with a striped knit with cross-stitch embroidery, cotton shorts and a georgette gown with trompe l’oeil details."
However, for critics it seemed that this justification was too little, too late. Can something truly be referred to as homage if the credit and original source is completely overlooked and omitted? Was Gucci's belated response, explaining that they were supposedly honouring the black designer, just a ruse to cover up the theft – especially following a string of accusations of plagiarism? It transpired that Gucci had not reached out to Dapper Dan, despite taking direct inspiration from his work.
Now, in an interesting plot twist, it has just been announced that following the controversy, Dapper Dan and Alessandro met and are now working on a collaboration. Dapper Dan closed his famous Harlem store, where he made custom-designed counterfeit clothing, worn and adored by the hip-hop elite, 25 years ago. This weekend, The New York Times revealed that Dapper Dan will be reopening his atelier later this year, with the help of Gucci, which will supply the raw materials.
Additionally, Gucci and Dapper Dan will collaborate on a capsule collection that will be produced and sold in Gucci stores internationally next spring as part of the brand's Pre Fall offering. Daniel Day a.k.a. Dapper Dan also models in Gucci’s latest menswear tailoring ad campaign, shot on the streets of Harlem, by photographer Glen Luchford.
Despite this sudden rush of support for Dapper Dan, what did Day actually think of Gucci's "homage" to the designer in the Cruise collection? “I was just excited about it being there," Day told The New York Times. "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.”
It seems that Dapper Dan is more forgiving than his loyal supporters, who discredited Michele and Gucci for co-opting his designs without initial recognition. In the Times feature, Michele explained: “I understand that I am putting my hands in a kind of very delicate playground, the black community... But I love the black community. I think they have a big voice in terms of fashion.” It is likely that this flippant statement may provoke more heated debate on cultural appropriation, plagiarism and the repeated mining of black culture with insufficient acknowledgement within the industry today, especially when many would quickly refute "the big voice" the black community has in the fashion sphere.