Collaboration is fashion’s new normal, but few moments of brand synergy are as compelling as Dapper Dan’s partnership with the Gap. Two of American fashion’s most recognizable entities, the Harlem fashion legend and the San Francisco-based mall staple represent opposite ends of the style spectrum. Still, they’ve united for a limited edition hoodie that reimagines the classic Gap campus sweatshirt.
The man who created the template for hip-hop style by outfitting rap stars in custom pieces that utilized the logos of luxury houses, Dap is the right person to remix Gap’s signatures. He also knew that joining forces with the retailer was a powerful opportunity. “The Gap represents accessible style; everyone can be a part of it while still being themselves,” Dap shared via Zoom from Harlem. “I still remember my first pair of khakis and how I used to starch them, but you can [also] find a farmer in the most remote part of the country who knows what the Gap is, so it’s a big deal to be a part of this distinctly American thing.”
The original beyond-basics store, Gap, has helped set the tone of mass-market fashion for more than five decades. Before retailers like Everlane and Uniqlo were offering no-fuss, minimalist workwear, they were busy outfitting the world with khakis and t-shirts. Their global reach even helped to boost other brands. “This moment is a bit like history repeating itself, because I remember when LL Cool J was in the Gap ads wearing his FUBU hat,” Dap says of the 1999 campaign featuring the rap star in a baseball cap from Damon John’s label. “That was the moment that put FUBU on the map in the mainstream and allowed them to become a marketable name.”
That merger of hip hop swagger and classic American style informed how Dap wanted to be styled for the campaign. Known for his impeccable wardrobe of tailored suiting, he needed his switch to casual fare to be every bit as eye-catching. “In the design, you think ‘how can we take the hoodie to another place?’” he explains. “I’m a swag man, so I had to take it upscale and put on an ascot!” An item that can have negative connotations, Dap wanted his sweatshirt to represent elevated style. “My vision was about destigmatizing the hoodie,” he says. “At certain points in history, it’s been used to represent the dark side of our culture, so this was presenting it in a way that shows you can wear this and be fly, be international, and elegant.”