After a week of getting heavy criticism on social media, designer brand Gucci has responded to claims that they plagiarized a design from Harlem legend Dapper Dan, who during the late ’80s and early ’90s made a career of screen-printing — a gentle way of saying bootlegging — high-end brand logos onto stylish clothing items.
The controversy started when pictures from Alessandro Michele’s Gucci cruise collection show hit the ‘net. One of the pictures featured a model wearing a bomber jacket with puffed up sleeves and fur. Folks with sharp eyes quickly realized that this was a straight copy of a Dapper Dan look from the ’80s.
More specifically, it was a look that Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon rocked in 1989. As the picture spread around the Internet, Dixon went to Instagram to say her piece:
“Bish” stole my look! Give credit to @dapperdanharlem He did it FIRST in 1989! #gucci #GucciRipOff Now they get it! Long time overdue! @iamaprilwalker @tammyfordagency #DesignerWars #louisvuitton #LouisVuittonMinkJacket #dianedixonolympian @usmarothonmann @677flycreative @pam_boy @spaceodditykelly @i_am_audrey_ #dapperdanharlem @tom.prior @balleralert @fameolousent_
The Cut was able to track down Dixon, and she told a really charming story of that era and how that coat came to be:
“I was 25 when that photo was taken. Dap took the photo. We were doing a fitting for it because it was really big and bulky, and it really didn’t fit me, so it had to be altered a couple times. The coat cost around $3,500 or $4,500 because it was real mink and one of a kind. I spent the majority of my time in hot climates training for the Olympics, so when I came back to New York in the winter, I’d wear it to parties or to the club, and everyone would fall out and say how fly I looked.”
Gucci eventually released a statement, which they also put on their Instagram, where they give their side of their story, claiming that they weren’t trying to plagiarize Dapper Dan. They claim that they were paying “homage:”
Inside the #GucciCruise18 collection by #AlessandroMichele, a look that celebrates 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, including #Gucci. In a homage to Dapper Dan, this jacket worn with jeans and a lurex headpiece is flanked with a striped knit with cross-stitch embroidery, cotton shorts and a georgette gown with trompe l’oeil details.
A Gucci spokesperson told the New York Times that they have been trying to contact Dapper Dan for a collaboration but they couldn’t reach the influential designer.
Dapper Dan and high end brands like Gucci have had a rocky relationship, to say the least. Throughout the ’80s, Dapper Dan was the most prosperous and influential bootlegger. He famously incorporated high-end logos onto clothes and into car interiors, working with everyone from LL Cool J to Mike Tyson to Bobby Brown. (His most iconic piece of work were the jackets he designed for Eric B. and Rakim on the Paid in Full cover.)
His shop on 125th was open 24 hours a day and was a hangout spot for big time athletes, rappers and drug dealers at the time. In 1992, he finally closed down his iconic shop after years of raids and pressure from brands. Fendi, in particular, was aggressive, with future Supreme Court Justice Associate Sonia Sotomayor being the lead lawyer.
Now that time has passed brands are willing to be a little more forgiving. Which isn’t surprising; things that are low-end eventually become high-end.