Culture of the african diasporia enjoy world-wide reach. Creative professionals in design, fashion, culinary arts, wine, beauty and even architecture that support the structures we physically inhabit, create and deliver the luxury items we enjoy in every aspect of our lives. All those fields and products are enhanced by the creative vision of our neighbors of the african diaspora. Starting this month we highlight those visionaries whose talents enrich our luxury industries throughout the year.
Dapper Dan, Designer
Dapper Dan, born Daniel Day and known to his friends as Dap, built a powerful legacy on the foundation of humility, perseverance, and, above all, candor.
The Harlem native and legend in the streets of Uptown had a habitual flair for fashion and an entrepreneurial mindset to monetize his ideas and turn them into a cultural movement.
The 1980s proved to be his pinnacle. During that decade, he opened his renowned Dapper Dan’s Boutique in Harlem, appealing to a wide-ranging clientele, from the who’s who of street connoisseurs to athletes and hip hop megastars.
The self-taught tailor orchestrated a style that was unique to the street by adding high fashion European monograms to his designs. He was the first, the architect of said look, and everybody who was somebody wanted a Dapper Dan original. The bespoke designs are rare and coveted to this day.
Dap did not achieve success without setbacks. He went underground, away from the fashion spotlight, until his unexpected comeback in 2017 when Gucci’s Alessandro Michele referenced his iconic work.
In 2017, this led to Dap’s collaboration with the Italian powerhouse and, ultimately, the creation of his luxury atelier in Harlem. With this move, Dapper Dan became the first true luxury brand out of Harlem.
In light of Gucci’s recent design misstep, Dap stood firm and held the fashion house accountable, with Gucci executives joining him at a private roundtable meeting in Harlem.
Aurora James, Owner and Creative Director of Brother Vellies
Even before she came up with the idea for the 15 Percent Pledge, Aurora James had already established herself as one of the most thoughtful designers of her generation with her accessories line, Brother Vellies. James’s offering of shoes, handbags and small leather goods has grown from a self-funded stall at an East Village flea market to an award-winning business with devotees all over the world. Her appreciation for and use of traditional African footwear styles and craftsmanship helped a new audience discover them at a time when the luxury world was still ceaselessly allegiant to France and Italy.
The concept for her pledge came amid the protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other black people at the hands of police officers. With people searching for ways to help the black community in a real and lasting way, James offered the idea that retailers devote 15 percent of their shelf space to black-owned businesses because black people make up 15 percent of the population.
Thus far, a handful of retailers have signed on, including beauty behemoth Sephora and the menswear e-tailer No Man Walks Alone. In an Instagram post, James called the pledge the start of a new beginning for black businesses of all stripes. “I will get texts that this is crazy. I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that,” she wrote. “But I don’t think it’s too anything; in fact, I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.”
Virgil Abloh, Artistic Director at Louis Vuitton
Born in 1980 to Ghanaian parents, Abloh grew up in the outskirts of Chicago. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 and went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
After working for an architecture firm for two years, Abloh shifted his focus to fashion. In 2009, he founded RSVP Gallery, an art gallery and menswear boutique in Chicago. That same year, he joined Kanye West’s creative agency Donda as creative director, overseeing projects like stage shows and concert merchandise.
In 2012, Abloh launched his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision, which screen-printed logos onto Champion t-shirts and dead stock Ralph Lauren rugby shirts. Alongside this, he collaborated with Matthew Williams and Heron Preston as part of a collective called Been Trill. Pyrex shuttered in 2013. That same year, Abloh launched luxury men’s and women’s streetwear label Off-White. The Milan-based brand was picked up by stockists such as Barneys and Colette, and is worn by the likes of Jay-Z, ASAP Rocky, Rihanna and Beyoncé. In 2015, Off-White was an LVMH Prize finalist.
Abloh’s first show for Louis Vuitton was held in the gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris in June, on a rainbow-coloured runway with friends in attendance that included rapper Kanye West and musician Kid Cudi. “The Palais Royal on Thursday was unlike any fashion event in recent memory, with its anticipatory outpouring of goodwill. For all its scale, it felt almost like a family affair,” said BoF editor-at-large Tim Blanks in his review.
Alongside running his fashion brand and consulting, Abloh DJs under the alias Flat-White.
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