BY MANISHA WOHLFORD
“Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Spend three racks on a new chain” (Lil Pump). Thus begins “Gucci Gang,” an arguably catchy song by rapper Lil Pump that went platinum early in 2018. With a refrain that mentions the Italian clothing brand, Gucci, upwards of twenty times, it is hard to miss the significance of its repetition: Society finds Gucci to be incredibly desirable. “Gucci Gang” is a recent, prominent example, but the brand itself is not actually a new face in the hip-hop circuit. Gucci has been referenced in the hip-hop circuit by various rappers, from 2Chainz to Pusha T, as a means of suggesting wealth without necessarily speaking directly about the amount of money they make. This lyrical materialism represents a triumph over poverty and an extreme compensation for their disadvantaged past. Deemed a point of success in hip-hop, Migos uses high-fashion references in the song “Bad and Boujee” to assert their dominance: “Boy, you so fake, like my collar you snakin' I swear to God that be that Gucci” (Migos). With all the exposure and publicity that dominant fashion houses get, hip-hop is changing the world of high fashion, a phenomenon that can be seen with Gucci, the most mentioned brand in hip-hop (Gayomali). There is an interplay between the world of high fashion and hip-hop, a sample of which can be seen when examining Gucci”s homage to the famous hip-hop fashion designer, Dapper Dan.
Daniel Day, more popularly known as Dapper Dan, was an architect of pop culture fashion design in the 1980s. He made clothing for basketball players and rappers. Born and raised in Harlem, the focus of vibrant black culture, Day knew that “fashion and culture were on different sides of the same coin” (Cooper). The subculture in Harlem provided a substantial amount of money in the street. This allowed Day to open up a store with the clientele from this subculture (“A$AP Ferg Interviews”).
Materialism is a common theme in hip-hop lyrics with clothes reflecting social status. The need to dress to impress is part of a generational mindset for many black men who grew up in Harlem (Cooper). One day, someone came into Dapper Dan’s boutique with a Louis Vuitton pouch, and everyone went nuts. This simple pouch is where Dapper Dan’s idea began. The logos on the bag were just symbolism. If one was happy with a small pouch ordinated with the logos, imagine what would happen if they could have a whole outfit. In regards to the topic, Dapper Dan said, “the label is the thing the gangster clientele use to let the other gangsters in the street know, ‘You ain’t got what I got.’ It’s the label that set you apart,” (Cooper). At the time these dominant fashion houses were not making clothes in Dapper Dan’s style (Schneier). Dapper Dan was avant-garde with every stitch he made.
Counterfeiting brands was necessary to assert dominance, and with every forged logo, he made clothes decorated with emblems of dominant fashion houses. The pieces with the fraudulent logos elevated the clothing to levels of fine art (Schneier). Day’s motivation to create these counterfeit creations comes from childhood woes where he was “always denied new clothes,” and hoped for a future where he could “wear suits and ties,” reinforcing the purpose of brand-referencing in rap and hip-hop (“A$AP Ferg Interviews”). It is a sign that one has accomplished all that they can, given their circumstances.
Dan, like any exceptional hip-hop star, was sampling- a common practice in music. Instead of borrowing beats, he was borrowing logos. Dapper Dan gained hype as many hip-hop artists flooded to him because they could not initially afford to purchase Gucci items. This phenomenon is interesting because in a way, Dan was sampling as many hip-hop artists do. Some of Dapper Dan’s most notable creations were for hip-hop artists, Rakim and Eric B. He made them flashy track jackets decorated with Gucci’s monogram. He also designed garments with fraudulent logos for LL Cool J, Salt-N-Peppa, and Run DMC, all of which were famous names in hip-hop. However, the brands Dapper imitated, such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, shut his ten-year operation down using legal actions in 1992 (Schneier).
Gucci, the Italian brand famously known for their interlocking GG monogram, began in 1920 and quickly rose to the top of the world of high fashion. With many changes in leadership, Gucci has managed to stay relevant consistently (Gayomali). The current creative director is Alessandro Michele, and he has taken a new approach towards the whole appearance of Gucci, which was previously known for an expensive, polished look. The new designs feature many hip-hop influences. Alessandro Michele’s efforts have resulted in songs named after him, as well as recognition in “RAF,” another chart-topping song (Gayomali). Michele introduced a decorated all-white sneaker into the collection, a spin on a staple of hip-hop style. The influence hip-hop has on the current state of Gucci does not end here.
Fashion trends tend to recycle every so often, and this typically occurs seamlessly. Luxury brands were doing so without issue until conflict rose in 2017, when a design that Dapper Dan came up with at the height of his career was “borrowed” by Gucci. In 1989, Dapper Dan created a mink jacket with puffed sleeves decorated with the iconic Louis Vuitton logo for Olympian Diane Dixon. For Gucci’s 2018 Cruise Collection, which made its debut in May of 2017, almost 28 years later after Dapper Dan’s design, Alessandro Michele sent an almost identical jacket out on the runway, the only difference being the Gucci logo in place of the impostor Louis Vuitton markings on the original Dapper Dan design (Schneier). Although not initially considered a trend in high fashion, Alessandro Michele found Dapper Dan's legacy relevant enough to include in his line.
This particular incident illuminates an issue in fashion and hip hop’s exchange. The line between appropriation and homage is fragile in this case. Did Alessandro Michele rip off Dapper Dan? Is this cultural appropriation? Vice magazine accused Gucci of “ruining culture,” but Gucci quickly said that the piece was a tribute, not appropriation (Schneier). Cultural misappropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not one’s own, especially without showing that they understand or respect this culture. Appreciating another culture is a cultural exchange. One would have to consent to participate in some culture, and both sides mutually benefit and gain an understanding of each other. On the other hand, appropriating another culture entails taking from a marginalized group without permission, usually with little respect for or knowledge about the culture.
The efforts Dapper Dan made are an integral part of Gucci’s history. Dapper Dan first copied Gucci, and then Gucci copied Dapper Dan (Cooper). Michele defends his decision by saying, “We are recognizing the power of this work. The message for me is that we have, in a way, recognized a huge piece of the history of the brand. It is the time to say that fashion is not just the windows of a Fifth Avenue store. It’s more. It’s about culture,” (Schneier). Dan was not offended by Michele’s decision, he was “excited about it being there” and recognizes that he comes from a different world than the designer. He says that “the magic that took place was a result of what he did by bringing these two parallel universes together,” (“A$AP Ferg Interviews”). Alessandro’s action opened a dialogue between the two artists. Through conversation they were able to see similarities in their life experiences and the way they grew up. Dan was able to see how Michele was influenced by his work in the 1980s, and he was “never apprehensive about what took place” (“A$AP Ferg Interviews”).
Dapper Dan has become part of the canonicity -- he was absorbed into the culture. Michele’s decision was not appropriation; he paid tribute to an inventive artist who paved the way for self-expression not previously seen in high fashion. The jacket was unmistakably under Dan’s influence and recognized on the catwalk regardless of captioning the piece (Schneier). Dapper Dan is much like any other artist in history.
The actions of Gucci in May 2017 bring aspects of luxury, class, and race into question. ASAP Ferg, the son of a man that worked for Dan, says how the work Dan did “taught them how to use their designs in a much more effective way. Dan curated hip hop culture” (“A$AP Ferg Interviews”). Not only did Dan open a door of expressivity, “he actually taught an entire generation how to engage with luxury brands,” as pointed out by Steve Stoute, a prominent face in fashion. He furthers this claim by saying “ Luxury brands, at that point, were not for us. They didn’t even have sizing for black people. So every time I walk into Louis Vuitton to buy a pair of sneakers or buy a pair of pants in my size, I know they’re only doing it because of Dapper Dan” (Cooper).
The current state of Gucci shows a respectful exchange of culture. Michele is just sampling in the way that Dapper Dan once did. The iconic jacket sent down the runway was only a reference, or symbol, that honored the history of Gucci. The fashion industry is indebted to Dapper Dan, and the credit Alessandro Michele paid to Dapper Dan was necessary. Dapper Dan was calling on Gucci's authority, and what Gucci has done is leverage on his influence. Gucci is now wearing Dan, and it is his status that is finding relevance in this hip-hop-steeped environment of the 21st century. Gucci is an image in hip-hop, and this is an interplay of artistic creation. Gucci is now wearing hip hop.