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Four Articles that Address Cultural Appropriation in Response to the Gucci Cruise18 Homage to Dapper Dan

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Tamu McPherson | Friday June 9th 2017

Dapper Dan
Four Articles that Address Cultural Appropriation in Response to Gucci Cruise18 Homage to Dapper Dan

After the Gucci Cruise 18 shows the internet entered a tailspin criticizing Alessandro Michele’s nod to Hip-Hop Sartorial legend Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day’s iconic bomber designed for track & field Olympian Diane Dixon. Dapper Dan was the go-to-man in the 80s for hip-hop stars Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim, and LL Cool J, and athletes including Mike Tyson and other high profile individuals. From his store on 125th Street in Harlem, he created bold, eye-catching, custom-made outfits using knock-off logo fabrics belonging to European luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. He was often sued for copyright infringement by these brands, subjected to raids by the feds and was eventually forced to close shop.

Having participated in the Cruise experience which included special museum tours that provided key references to the 115 look collection, it was clear to me that Michele was paying homage to Dapper Dan as he was to the other references that he wove into the ample collection. As the storm of commentary started blowing in, I mentioned to a friend, “When does it become a question of him [Michele] thinking “that girl [Dixon] was so freaking cool, I want to include her style in my mix of cultural references?” Can it ever be? When, how and after what steps of reconciliation?

I mused to another friend over WhatsApp that maybe “it’s a sign of the times, that an Italian designer could be so inspired by a hip-hop look from the 80s that he includes it in his show at Pitti palace among other priceless art.”  As Delenda Joseph accurately provides in her Uproxx piece “In Gucci’s Well-Deserved ‘Homage’ To Dapper Dan Has Resurfaced A Fascinating Moment In Style History”: “The times have clearly changed. Back in the day, big brands fired off letters rather than reaching out to Dapper Dan and using the opportunity to work with him and to better understand the culture that was enamored with luxury items (or labels).” Today, a certain level of progress has been made through the efforts of activists like Bethann Hardison who champions diversity on the runway and beyond. I put my hands up here to emphasize that I am in no way ignoring the horrible failures committed by the industry with regards to inclusivity, as well as to state that we have a long journey ahead of us before we can right the injustices that we have suffered at the hands of racism. But in the case of of Alessandro Michele’s Cruise 2018 collection, I don’t agree that look #33 is a case of appropriation.

In a dedicated post on its Instagram page the company shared: “Inside the #GucciCruise18 collection by #AlessandroMichele, a look that celebrated 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, like Gucci. In homage to Dapper Dan, this jacket worn with jeans and a lurex head piece is flanked with a striped knit with cross-stitch embroidery, cotton shorts and a georgette gown with trompe l’oeil details.

Alessandro Michele would have been in his teens at the time Dapper Dan attempted to collaborate with luxury groups like Gucci. Like many non-POC, he would go on to be influenced by the growing presence and acknowledgement of black excellence on the global arena. He would have observed how black cultural influence has unfolded over the years.

In the BOF’s “How Hip-Hop Conquered High Fashion”, Christopher Morency and Edwin Jiang provide the following commentary and a timeline of Hip Hop’s influence and acceptance in the luxury market:
“In the age of A$AP Rocky x Dior, it’s easy to forget how long it took for high fashion to embrace the cultural power of American hip-hop. In 1982, Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day’s infamous boutique opened on 125th Street in New York’s Harlem, selling extravagant outfits emblazoned with fake logos from European luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton, Guccinand Versace. The brands were not amused. Louis Vuitton and Gucci sued and the store was ultimately raided and shut down.”

“Today, hip-hop is one of America’s greatest cultural exports and the luxury industry has embraced its power as a marketing vehicle: A$AP Rocky for Dior Homme; Travis Scott for Saint Laurent; Pharrell Williams for Chanel; the list goes on. It’s now normal when Kanye West appears in American Vogue, or Marc Jacobs’ latest collection is a fully-fledged ode to hip-hop culture. How times have changed.”

In another article by BOF, “Why Fashion Needs Cultural Appropriation” Osman Ahmed notes:
“The Dapper Dan-inspired look follows Gucci’s all-black 2017 Pre-Fall campaign which also borrowed from the New York hip-hop scene of the late 1970s, as well as the Northern Soul movement in England. Here again, Gucci’s message seems clear and uplifting: black culture deserves to be at the forefront of a multi-billion dollar brand.
So why exactly has there been such a backlash? And, moreover, at what point does this kind of pressure kill a creative’s license to take risks?
Perhaps the key to the riddle is in the word itself: appropriation. In recent years, it has become associated with the violent pilfering of non-Western cultures and sacred symbols, policed by a self-proclaimed “Generation #Woke.” But what they’re really referring to is mis-appropriation: when the act becomes superficial or exploitative.
Well-intentioned appropriation can be a force for good, creating a cultural exchange and enriching the available vocabulary for designers, artists and image-makers — even for chefs, filmmakers and architects. It can be an engine that drives culture forward and breaks down borders and divisions, rather than dividing them.”

The NYT’s writer Matthew Schneier opens his article “Did Gucci Copy ‘Dapper Dan’? Or Was It ‘Homage’” with the line, Who knocks off the knockers-off? Who bootlegs the bootleggers? – referencing a quote by the Roman satirist Juvenal, “who watches the watchmen?” Mr. Schneier later adds, “With his jacket, Mr. Michele is effectively reappropriating the appropriation, with all the tangled politics and ethics that that would imply.”

Since taking the reins as Creative Director at Gucci, Michele has created collections so rich in visual and stylistic inspiration that they amount to mini-epics that span time, continents and arguably space. Each look is often a fairy tail within of itself. For Cruise 2018 he stayed on course infusing pop themed concepts into the birthplace of the Italian renaissance. That he would include an iconic Dapper Dan look which at its time signaled a stylistic renaissance in black sartorial culture is inline with his particular brand of narrative. Also of note, is his continued real vs. fake dialog. Mr. Schneier also addresses this subject with:
“While counterfeiting remains a thorn in the side of luxury brands, there has also increasingly been a more playful approach taken (in certain cases) by the industry.”
“At Gucci, Mr. Michele has toggled between the real and the fake with aplomb. It is enough to scramble the minds of copyright lawyers and epistemologists alike. Several pieces in the cruise collection bore the label “GUCCY,” playing on the law-dodging misspellings sometimes used by knockoff artists: a faux real, for real. And when Mr. Michele discovered Trevor Andrew, a New York artist, making and selling his own fake Gucci items as “GucciGhost,” he did not sue. He brought him into the fold.”

What do you think? Let’s discuss and move forward to a place where our work is appreciated by all for its brilliance.

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