How Dapper Dan, Harlem Haberdasher, Spends His Sundays
You’ll never see Daniel Day — known as Dapper Dan among fashionistas — in sweatpants. “Today, I wanted to go get coffee, can’t even do that,” Mr. Day said. “Wherever people going to see me, I got to be dressed.That kills me, man.”
His interest — or calling, some might argue — in always spiffing up for the outside world goes back to his teenage years. “Refused to go to school unless I was looking right,” said Mr. Day, a designer, entrepreneur and famous Harlem resident who still strolls by the old high school on 116th Street that he used to ditch regularly to shoot dice.
His style has excited people in Harlem and beyond since his seminal shop, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, opened there in 1982. Over the next decade, the store got attention in both good ways (when high-rolling clients like Salt-N-Pepa and Jay-Z came calling) and not-so-good ways (when part of his vision was to incorporate luxury logos in his own designs, which resulted in multiple police raids on his shop and a trademark infringement lawsuit).
Butthe tables have turned. Gucci is collaborating with Dapper Dan, logo and all. And the Gap asked him to design multiple hoodie collections, most recently in houndstooth and plaid, tartan-esque patterns modeled after his signature suits.
“This gives me an opportunity to destigmatize the garment, to take it upward,” Mr. Day said. “I was thinking of Trayvon Martin and the stigma still attached to a minority with a hoodie on.”
Mr. Day, 78, lives in Harlem with his common-law wife of 54 years, June Francis, not far from his appointment-only atelier on 122nd Street, its windows framed with slick green paint.
CHURCH SOCIAL One of my favorite things to do is go by the churches. You see everybody dressed up like back in the day. The two most popular in the community: Abyssinian Baptist Church and Daddy Grace’s up on Eighth Avenue, also called The United House of Prayer for All People. I prefer Daddy Grace’s because he’s got the kitchen upstairs. Go upstairs and just sit, you know? I don’t go to the preaching part, because I knewstorieson preachers back in the ’50s. I go after the sermons, when they start serving the food. Upstairs, in the cafeteria, it’s all these people from the South, like my mom was. Really good Black people, they’re up there. Everybody talking. A real Southern feel.
STROLL After the church cafeteria, that’s when I start taking my walks, looking for somebody interesting. Start from my atelier’s brownstone, walk down through the two blocks I call Little Africa (other people call it the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market.) All you see is Africans and African businesses for two blocks along 116th street. Might see my Senegalese friend Mustafaat his clothes shop. Early on, in the ’80s, he was one of my tailors.
SARTORIAL MENTOR Yeah,I’m trying to do things with the young African boys from the same Wolof tribe as Mustafa. They are encountering problems, same as African Americans, drugs and dropping out of high school like I did. So I go down to 116th so they can see me. I often bring my assistant, Bara, whose dad is also from Senegal. Opens up a window to be different. My intention is to, gradually, get them to wear suits. Clothes have a power that cuts across social and economic lines. But I have to make it exciting. It’s gotten bad over there.
BODY, MIND Oh, what I failed to mention: Every day, all day when I’m at home, when I’m not reading, I’m all news, all the time. MSNBC. Every day. Now she’s only on Monday, but Rachel Maddow is my number one. Don’t write that, though — Black people will be mad at me. I put her on right after my exercise. As soon as I get up in the morning, I do my stretches. Both legs. Every day. And my deep knee bends. Then I’ll walk across my room 25 times. Ride my stationary bike for about five minutes. I don’t turn on the news while I’m doing my exercises, though. ‘Cause it will steal your mind.
MELBA’S Then I’m thinking about where I’m going to eat. Every Sunday, June goes to Melba’s. Right now, Melba’s is Sundays. My great grandkids — I got eight kids, you know — dancing in front, in the street. I’m vegetarian, so I get baked macaroni and collard greens. And Melba has these mushrooms. So I get some mushrooms. Always see Melba there. The most popular Afro-American restaurant in the world is Sylvia’s. Melba is Sylvia’s niece.
MOVE Now I’m going to find somewhere to go dancing. My favorite place for years and years is La Marqueta on 116th and Park. But for everybody in the whole salsa community, Jimmy Anton’s is the number one place for Sunday. At 6 p.m., it’s for people like me who love to dance, but they don’t drink. That’s why a lot of venues are closing, because they only get the entry fee. Big problem with a lot of the Latin clubs. Not the Dominican clubs, ‘cause they drink. A lot.
GOING FORWARD Try to get home from Jimmy’s early. Like to be in bed no later than 12, because my Sunday starts about 4 a.m. Get these thoughts at 4 or 5, then start texting my assistant, Bara. Brainstorming. It’s like I’ve uploaded the things that happened on Saturday and now know how I want to proceed. By my pillow right now is “Voice of the Leopard.” It’s related to my trip to Nigeria last month, when I started researching Sankofa symbols. That’s my real focus right now, because going forward, my clothes will sport non-European symbols. Moving away from the Euro symbols. So, always sending Bara messages.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Dapper Dan on Instagram @dapperdanharlem.