When I was coming of age during the 70s, it was all about partying, going to the clubs. I was in my late teens, and my friends and I would go clubbing most Thursday nights at Casablanca and on the weekends at the famed Leviticus Nightclub. Present in those clubs during that time was one of the most charismatic and yet enigmatic figures on the scene back then, the handsome, immaculately dressed, and smoothest of dancers, Daniel Day aka Dapper Dan.
After reading Danny’s autobiography, I now understand why we never knew that Danny was so much older than us because he was mature, cultured. Besides being uber laid back and cool, by the time I met Danny, he had lived some life. He and his six siblings had grown up very much loved by their parents, but also impoverished, hungry on many a day. Attempting to improve his lot, not only had Danny been a drug dealer, a drug addict, and had been in jail, but he also had had the iron will to leave that world behind.
Danny had travelled to Africa twice, was an avid reader and had read up on some of the most astute books on spirituality. He had become a vegetarian in addition to being one of the most admired hustlers in Harlem. Yes, no wonder he was so damn cool! Don’t allow the Ebonics to fool you, Danny is an intellectual, an observer of society and its ills and how those ills have impacted not only his family but Black people in general and in particular. This man has layers, substance, grit, charm, beauty charisma and a huge heart. He’s not just your garden-variety hustler. And he will tell you even to this day; he is still hustling, that’s how he has a partnership with a brand like Gucci.
I was amazed at all the beautiful things I learned about Danny reading his book, how he would pay little kids to jog with him just to get them involved something different, spend time with them and show them how they can be healthy. I was touched by Danny’s decision to set up video games and television area in his shop to keep his nephew, nieces, and the vulnerable kids in the neighbourhood busy with something other than being on the streets. He has mentored so many children and young adults.
When dear friend Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, invited me to be one of her guests at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, while she interviewed Danny, despite being exhausted from doing a show the day before, I had to be there. As fate would have it, another notable, Malika Lee Whitney gave me her number one spot in line to have my book signed by Danny. I was taken-aback when Danny reminded me that many years ago I gave him a postcard of a wizard levitating above his bed. He said he still has that card, that he keeps it on his computer. Thought I had long forgotten about that card, I guess I always knew Danny was magical.
Yes, it’s no wonder that Dapper Dan now sits on the throne of the fashion world and is considered the beloved mayor of Harlem. He is far more than the incredible clothes he wears and the fashion empire he has built. There is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to this iconic figure. I am so happy and proud of Mr. Dapper Dan. As you may have well deduced by now, I highly recommend you pick up and read his book, and give it as a gift to others, “Dapper Dan: Made In Harlem: A Memoir.” It’s a book of history, culture, community, resolve, redemption, adventure, and ultimately a love of fashion and one’s people.