Harlem Locals Have Thoughts on the Gucci Atelier in Their Neighbourhood

Gina Marinelli

To many, Harlem needs no introduction, even for those who live far outside the parameters of Upper Manhattan—its historic and cultural influences are widespread. But for those who’ve lived (and continue to live) within the neighbourhood, there’s also a person who needs no introduction. His name is Dapper Dan, and in Harlem fashion circles, he’s practically a household name.

Designer Daniel Day—commonly known by his aforementioned nickname—made his most memorable work to date in the ’80s and ’90s, creating custom, luxe, and logo-covered pieces for celebrities (of both neighbourhood and worldwide fame), hip-hop icons, and Olympic athletes. “He was famous for always doing something that no one else was doing,” Olympic runner Diane Dixon wrote for The Cut this year. “He approached designers to collaborate with him, but they told him it wasn’t chic enough. Back then, and obviously still now, mainstream fashion brands didn’t give him respect. They looked down on him and thought logos on clothing were only for minorities, even though he was open to anyone coming to his store.”

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Though Day’s original shop on 125th Street closed in 1992, a string of events stretching back to the Gucci cruise show this past summer saw his groundbreaking and trend-setting work take a new position center stage. It started when Creative Director Alessandro Michele sent a logo-covered, puffed-sleeve jacket down his runway that was an obvious nod to a bespoke piece Day once made for Dixon over 20 years ago. After the show, Michele confirmed the source of inspiration, eventually going on to cast the always sharply dressed designer in his cruise tailoring campaign, announce an upcoming collaboration between them to be released later this year, and, as of this month, partner to open a Harlem Gucci atelier, “an homage to the couturier’s original shop, Dapper Dan’s Boutique,” the brand said in a press release.

While this new boutique feels like a true celebration and recognition of someone who’s been so influential to fashion—an industry so often critiqued for lacking diversity and tending to appropriate rather than appreciation—it also marks the opening of the first luxury retail studio in Harlem, opened by appointment and specializing in custom creations. It opens its doors both to the shopper who has lived in Harlem all along but needed to travel further downtown to make certain high-end purchases and to the shopper who will be drawn to the neighbourhood anew, perhaps for the first time. To get a sense of what that means for those who call Harlem home, we asked some of our readers, and among the locals (and one longtime Harlem resident), the consensus is that it’s complicated.

“Everyone paid homage to Dapper Dan, but no one ever paid him,” Day said in the release from Gucci. “The people have spoken and Gucci has listened. Nothing has been more significant in the Harlem cultural scene than Alessandro and Gucci coming to Harlem and partnering with Dapper Dan.” While our readers agree, welcoming this atelier doesn’t just mean better access. It means pride in a local artist. It's a reminder of the realities of gentrification. And it means excitement to see where the neighbourhood is going while preserving what’s made it so special all along. Here’s their take, in their own words.

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