When I first put my hands on “Dapper Dan, Made in Harlem” A memoir by Daniel R. Day, I thought I had a really clear idea of what I was getting into, a fashion book. And I was so wrong. First of all, this is not a fashion book. It could be described as a fashion designer/icon’s biography or memoir which includes a deep introduction into the world of fashion. But for me this is a book about culture, the fascinating culture and history of Harlem during the whole twentieth century and some years before and after that.
This is also a clear love letter to Harlem, New York. But I wouldn’t say that Dan -neither Mikael Awake who helped him write this book- romanticize it. It is a raw and detailed tell of Dan’s -and his family’s- life from their big struggles to their better times, that feels honest. At the same time, the story of the Day family is a parallel reflection of the story of Harlem, which reflects a big part of the story of New York and consequently USA.
Today we know Daniel because of his rebel mark on the fashion industry. In here, he tells us he was also a shoeshiner, a dice gambler, a writer and poet, a hustler, a fan of latin music -such as Tito Puente’s-, someone that struggled with heroin and got out of it, someone that went to jail two times -one of those in Aruba for credit card fraud- and in general someone who fought hard to find a way to get out of the system he was pushed into. No matter how many times he was pushed down, he went up again.
Dapper Dan, the hustler of fashion
This is also an inspirational and aspirational story that literally analyzes inspiration and aspiration. And how role models -represented in Boy Wonders, which today we could compare to “It Girls” and influencers- influence the way we dressed, talk, act and the paths we take trough our life. In fact, in the last pages of the book, he talks about the way how he understands trends in fashion, and I have to say that it is a revelation.
Dan also talks about his spiritual journey, which he has crafted for himself. He goes deep into his relationship with his parents but not in the way children tend to talk about parents. This man presents his parents as people with ups and downs which ultimately makes us, the children, into real people.
And then, when he talks about Harlem, he shows you the why. How the mixed of forgotten people with different rich cultures suffering together in one area, makes the brew that makes Harlem one of the most fascinating neighborhoods ever. Where cultural and religious icons such as Malcom X and Mohamed Ali where not only leaders. But literally part of the community. And where drugs left nothing less than too many families and individuals destroyed.
This book also includes details and gossip related to his clients. In particular, the 1988 street fight between boxers Mike Tyson and Mitch Green outside Dapper Dan’s boutique in 125th Street in Harlem is told in this book in a fascinating, compassionate and detailed way -with pictures included.
“DAPPER DAN, MADE IN HARLEM” is a story about fashion, hip-hop, culture, history and beyond.
In terms of fashion, his designs and famous clients -such as Aaliyah, Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J- tell the story of this revolutionary fashion icon’s creativity. And how years after visiting Africa, he discovered that in there, he had found his true passion. In conclusion, I do recommend this book, one thousand percent.