Dapper Dan becomes first Black designer honored with Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award

The Harlem native is also the first to win the award without hosting a traditional fashion show

Legendary clothing designer Dapper Dan has firmly cemented his status in the lineage of Black fashion icons over the past several decades, and will be honored for it in historic fashion in November.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) announced Wednesday that Dapper Dan will be awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 CFDA ceremony, the first-ever Black designer to receive the honor.

Designer Dapper Dan attends the preview for his Capsule Collection during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Spring Studios on September 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for IMG Fashion)

With the announcement, the 77-year-old Harlem, New York native also becomes the first-ever designer to win the award without hosting a traditional runway show according to Vogue — a fact that Dapper Dan called “ironic” in an Instagram post commemorating his latest achievement.

“Isn’t it ironic how the fashion world says that Dapper Dan won the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, without ever having a runway show?” he wrote. “The streets of Harlem have been my runway for 35 years. Isn’t that where the major luxury brands got their inspiration from? Maybe logo-mania is an illusion. Thank you Harlem, I love you!”

Dapper Dan’s path to notoriety in the fashion world certainly took a different route than many of the previous CFDA lifetime achievement award winners, such as Rick Owens, Tom Ford, Vera Wang, Bob Mackie, Betsey Johnson, Norma Kamali, and Narcisco Rodriguez.

Instead, Dapper Dan, real name Daniel Day, carved out his own lane in the 1980’s customizing streetwear with DIY-logo prints of major fashion brands for legendary MC’s LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, KRS-One and more.

I love that Dapper Dan is receiving the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene lifetime achievement award — He’s the first designer to have never had a fashion show to win this honor, rightfully so because look at the material. No show needed! The impact is felt + seen 💅🏽 pic.twitter.com/YzMPHYiISy

— Shelby Ivey Christie (@bronze_bombSHEL) September 15, 2021

Dapper Dan served the majority of his early clientele through his original Harlem-based store, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, until multiple brands took legal acttion against the designer for his unauthorized use of their logos, leading to the store shutting down for good in 1992.

After spending the next decade-plus continuing to design clothes in the fashion underground, the legendary designer resurfaced in the public spotlight in 2017 after a Gucci collection featured a mink jacket that appeared strikingly similar to one he had designed for Olympian Diane Dixon in the late 80s, leading critics to accuse the brand of appropriating the work of a Black designer who the fashion world attempted to cast away decades earlier.

“Cultural appropriation and cultural exchange breaks down to one thing: economics,” Dapper Dan told The Guardian. “An exchange involves somebody getting something, for whatever it is they have. Appropriation means you ain’t getting nothing.”

In 2018, Gucci recruited Dapper Dan to design his own capsule collection, opening an appointment-only atelier workshop for the designer in Harlem as an homage to his previous store that was shut down.

Dapper Dan will receive the award, celebrating his years of creativity, at the 2021 CFDA Awards on November 10 at The Pool Room in New York City.

“Thank you to the CFDA for making me the first black designer to win this lifetime achievement award,” Dapper Dan wrote on Instagram. “Harnessing the Dapper Dan brand to Gucci, mounted it on a global track, now the whole world knows what Harlem always knew, that the Dapper Dan brand is a thoroughbred brand.”

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