Roll your eyes all you want, but fashion logos carry a lot of power.

Just ask hip-hop legend Dapper Dan, a Harlem designer who hustled his way to success by selling clothes with knock-off (or, as he calls them, “knock-up”) branding.

Recently, The Cut caught up with the entrepreneur for an in-depth interview regarding his impact on the industry during the 1980s—the time when he began screen-printing leather goods with his own interpretations of high-end logos, including everything from Louis Vuitton to Gucci to Christian Dior.

“I think the first one that I became aware of was Christian Dior, because the Christian Dior hat was popular,” he said. “That was the big one; the hat and the umbrella. And after that, I remember Pierre Cardin, his suits.”

To no one’s surprise, the designs were a major hit, even getting co-signs from celebrities like Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Salt-N-Pepa, Run-DMC, and LL Cool J. But, for obvious reasons, he didn’t get much love from the companies he was biting from.

In the late 1980s, Fendi lead a raid on his store, confiscating any merchandise that was emblazoned with logos similar to its. As time went on, the community that once embraced his work was turning their backs in favor of legitimate logos—eventually pushing him to close his shop in 1992. But despite the bumps in the road and a shift in attitudes toward fashion, Dapper Dan is still considered one of the most influential figures in hip-hop fashion. And a lot of that can be attributed to his emphasis on logos.

“[A logo] signifies status, and money, which go hand in hand,” he said. “The thing is, you can have the status but nobody will know you don’t have the money. So that’s what gives it such an impact in your look.”

He went on to explain that his designs were not direct copies of the fashion houses’, but rather interpretations that were much edgier and, therefore, resonated with his customers much better. 

But nowadays, it seems that his clientele, specifically rappers, aren’t interested in "interpretations"; they want the real deal.

When asked if he has ever designed anything for Kanye West, Dapper Dan explained that ‘Ye "is probably a little off the medium. He’s somewhere else.”

“Louis took him in, so he never would have gone to me, until he realized—I think he spent a lot of money to realize—he was subject to the same thing I was subject to,” he said. “You can wear it, you can promote it, but you’re not getting a piece of this.”

To read the full Q&A piece, head over to The Cut’s website.

 

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